2. Strip Mining

One of the horrors that plagued the region, at the time (and still today!!!), was the issue of strip mining. Most people ignored the issues of strip mining that surfaced. Kennedy was very eager to search one of the local mines, but he did not know how difficult it would be to get into one such mine. Kennedy finally found a mine owner who reluctantly let Kennedy and his followers into the mine  (Schmitt, The Register 390-1).

Here is a picture of the event:

RFK speaks to strip mine owner (Appalachian Volunteers Records, Special Collections and Archives, Hutchins Library, Berea College, Berea, Kentucky)

I find this picture very touching. Kennedy looks as if he has a very deep and genuine concern look on his face; in no way does he seem very happy. His eyes are most perplexing and seem to reflects the heavy burden that he is carrying on his shoulders. The reporters look very hard at work, trying to record every last piece of information between RFK and the owner, and they took many pictures as well. The thing that really sticks out to me most is the landscape behind all the gentlemen. You can obviously tell the earth has been disturbed of its natural beauty. The foliage that hangs off the edge of the cliff is unnatural  and is very disturbing. Perhaps the author took this photograph intentionally, not only to document RFK’s visit, but to show some of the horrors of strip mining. He might have taken this photograph to draw attention to the region and how strip mining were affecting the people and as well as RFK advocating for more strict rules to its practices.

Kennedy could not fathom the destructive results of strip mining, but many people question why he was really here. For instance, Fred Luigart’s article, “Senators Charge Kennedy Visit, Magazine ‘Blacken’ States Image” (Louisville Courier Journal, February 16, 1968), argues that Kennedy was only here to make the state of Kentucky look bad and to gain support for his upcoming presidential campaign, even though Kennedy had yet to announce he was running for President. Senator Edward Murphy claims, “…poverty is a shame wherever it is found, intimated that Kennedy’s visit to Eastern Kentucky for a firsthand look at poverty and hunger was nothing more than a ‘quest for votes’ that produced unfavorable nationwide publicity for the state. If Kennedy wants to study poverty, the New York senator ought to start looking around ‘crime infested Boston…and New York City.” Murphy also suggests that Kennedy’s visit to the state was an insult; when Kennedy gave the American people the “impression that the Bluegrass state is populated by people with the haunted look of hunger and hopelessness.” In other words, all Kennedy wanted to do was ruin the way the Kentucky Senators looked to the rest of the United States and gain as much support as he could for the upcoming elections.

Why would these Senators claim such things about Kennedy? Were they too ashamed to open their eyes to the horrors that lurked at their back doors? I do not understand how they could just turn the other cheek and pretend like nothing is wrong; when obviously there was or Kennedy wouldn’t have been there in the first place. Could it possibly be that the Senators were profiting from the coal revenue while the miners and others were suffering? The state was bringing in X amount of money on the coal revenues, but those Kentuckians who were harvesting the coal were making little to nothing and their families were extremely poor. Many things can help me attribute to that; including that the coal companies owned every aspect of the coal town, the coal companies were beginning to become more mechanized, therefore the coal towns had little jobs to offer those who were still around (Bigart, Eller 19, 28). All Kennedy aimed to do was to help those people in need, but the state wanted to try and interfere with that. Obviously, the state Senators needed to open their eyes, and needed that rude wake up call.


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