We’re finishing up the primary season in an area of the country that was near and dear to Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s heart- Appalachia. The mountains of West Virginia and Kentucky supply much of the country’s coal and is home to the hard working but eternally poor. Those rich veins of coal extend up into my hometown region of PA where occasionally an old abandoned mine will subside and swallow houses whole. The area was settled by Scots-Irish Americans. For those of you interested in this fierce breed, check out Jim Webb’s fascinating book, Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America.
Appalachia was the scene of one of RFK’s most moving journeys. I was only a little girl when it happened but some memory of it remains. People who live there are proud and self-reliant but had lives cut short by black lung disease and malnutrition. About a month before his assassination, he gave an interview with David Frost and had this to say about his commitment to fighting poverty:
Something about the fact that I made some contribution to either my country, or those who were less well off. I think back to what Camus wrote about the fact that perhaps this world is a world in which children suffer, but we can lessen the number of suffering children, and if you do not do this, then who will do this? I’d like to feel that I’d done something to lessen that suffering.
“There are children in the Mississippi Delta whose bellies are swollen with hunger … Many of them cannot go to school because they have no clothes or shoes. These conditions are not confined to rural Mississippi. They exist in dark tenements in Washington, D.C., within sight of the Capitol, in Harlem, in South Side Chicago, in Watts. There are children in each of these areas who have never been to school, never seen a doctor or a dentist. There are children who have never heard conversation in their homes, never read or even seen a book.” RFK
(It’s a compassion and solidarity thing, Chris. You wouldn’t understand) I’ll have more to say about hunger tomorrow morning and what you can do about it.
The mountains are also home to one of America’s unique sonic landscapes- bluegrass music. The sound can be sharp and twangy with percussion plucked from a banjo and melody scraped off a fiddle. Or it can be sweet and sad with mandolin, guitar and “high lonesome” harmony. Once of my favorite bluegrass artists, Ricky Skaggs, had to wait many years before he could break a record contract and make his first bluegrass CD. Someone paired coal and Skaggs and made this video. Enjoy!