5. How did people of Eastern Kentucky respond to Kennedy’s visit?

How did the people of Eastern Kentucky respond to Kennedy exposing the horrors and unjust poverty? I believe that some of the people were probably ashamed by Kennedy’s visit. They didn’t want the rest of the nation to know the type of environment in which they were living. Maybe it was that they were just overwhelmed of all the attention at one time (Schmitt, The Register 392). No one can definitively know. Some people were relieved by the Senators visit. They genuinely thought that he would bring the necessary political attention to the region that it so desperately needed; though the people of Eastern Kentucky were sick of unfulfilled promises by the federal government (Greider, “Promises Have Failed, Sen. Kennedy Is Told”).

The people of Eastern Kentucky had programs such as the Appalachian Volunteers (AV’s) or VISTA workers who had been in the region for a few years before Kennedy’s visit (Schmitt, The Register 380, 394). These volunteers were sent into the region to “help” alleviate the poverty. At first these groups were eager to help by rebuilding school houses and homes, educating the people on proper hygiene care tips, helping provide clothes when necessary, and were just there to try and befriend the people as much as they could. Eventually, overtime, the AV’s and the VISTA volunteers began to question social structure and whether or not the poverty programs were beneficial to the region (Eller 116). They questioned such things as, why were there no books in the schools? Why there were not enough food for the people to eat? All of these questions pointed back to the local government and elites, and how they allotted the federal money to be spent. These volunteers we’re eventually dubbed “radical” because they began to question the government (Eller 116). Robert Kennedy questioned these same structures, which frightened the local elite and the Kentucky Senators (Williams 341).

Maybe this is why Senator Murphey was so critical of Kennedy’s view to the region (referring to the article in Strip Mining). Perhaps the Senators were scared of the new type of government structures Kennedy would bring in if he were to become President .

People protesting (Appalachian Volunteers Records, Special Collections and Archives, Hutchins Library, Berea College, Berea, Kentucky)

The picture above is probably the most touching photograph that I have. I believe that this photograph accurately portrays the feelings that people of Kentucky felt about Kennedy coming. This tells what the people want to see happen in Eastern Kentucky, thus giving Kennedy an idea about what they wanted to change in the region. Honestly, they were sick of politicians lying about changes that would come to the region and were hoping that Kennedy would follow through with the changes that the region needed. These young people are wearing bags over their faces with the word anger written, not to conceal their identity, but because they were ashamed of the poverty in which they were living. They also believed Kennedy should not communicate with the corrupt politicians, but should directly communicate with the poor themselves. They want a chance to receive a decent education, more job opportunities, they pay taxes and want to receive the same benefits as tax payers across the country, and ultimately they want honest politicians. I feel like the photographer of this photograph wanted to embrace the changes that these people wanted. Kennedy gave them a sense of hope as if their wants would someday be fulfilled (Greider, “Despite Gimmicks Plight of Mountains Hit Kennedy”).

The following link is something that I happened to stumble upon accidentally:

This video also reciprocates the mutual happy feelings that both parties experienced upon Kennedy’s visit. Just to hear how the people truly feel about Kennedy and his coming to Kentucky was very moving. You could hear the happiness and excitement in their voices; it’s like he renewed a sense of hope to the region that change is possible. They even claim this was the best thing that has happened to them, which really touches my heart. These people are elderly and they believed that the Senator coming to Kentucky was such a huge deal. This was because it was he was willing to listen to the changes that needed to be made in the region and this was unusual to the Kentuckians. Kennedy’s interview was very touching as well. By the tone in his voice it is evident that he is not accepting of what he discovered in Eastern Kentucky and was willing to advocate the necessary changes in order to achieve better stability for the Kentuckians. He wants to see hope for the future, more food availability, more job opportunities, more federal aid to the region, and that as a wealthy nation these conditions are unacceptable. This shows that Kennedy’s visit to Eastern Kentucky was mutually benefiting and he was here out of genuine concern.

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One Response to 5. How did people of Eastern Kentucky respond to Kennedy’s visit?

  1. Pingback: Poverty, White Privilege, and Short Memories | Romanticpoet's Weblog

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