You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive: The Story of Poverty in Eastern Kentucky

When: Tuesday, November 13th at 7:00 p.m.
Where: The Ewen Room (Campus Center)

Statue commemorating lost miners at the Hurricane Creek Mine Disaster Memorial Site in Letcher County, KY

The Centre College Bonner Program and Centre’s Creative Thinking Immersion (C-TIP) are co-hosting an open-campus event this year, designed around the opportunity for Centre students to learn the story of poverty in Eastern Kentucky and Appalachia from members of Centre’s own community who have both personal and professional experience in the area.

The story of Eastern Kentucky is far from simple, beginning with the first coal boom in the area around the time of the industrial revolution and in constant flux ever since. The face of the land itself changed as mine shafts tunneled deep into mountains, and later development completely cleared the tops off of mountains to get at the coal seams underneath as more and more people poured into the area in search of high wages. Groups of immigrants moved to mining towns in huge waves making it was one of the most racially and ethnically diverse areas of the United States, while lagging mine safety and environmental hazard regulations also made it one of the deadliest.

The mining towns of old were holders of Black Lung, company-owned wages paid in Scrip, company-contracted housing, and little variance in economic opportunity as coal continued to climb and left little room for other industry in an unforgiving landscape. Access to consistent running water and electricity didn’t begin arriving until well into the 1940’s, and still remains an issue. Large tracts of residential space exist as food desserts, populations of certain counties have halved in the past 8 years, and schools across the area are closing as families able to afford to leave the area are doing so in mass in search of stable, good-paying work.

This is, of course, an oversimplification that doesn’t account for the richness of Eastern Kentucky culture and development over the years. The presentation and subsequent question and answer session will attempt to build on what is presented by Eastern Kentucky native and former Governor Paul Patton at the Annual Poverty and Homelessness Week convocation on Monday night as well as bring in more of the cultural and personal aspects of Eastern Kentucky communities and families grappling with a huge economic overhaul. All are invited to attend and encouraged to bring any questions for both presenters to answer and the group to discuss.

Overview of Pikeville after the movement and reconstruction of the mountain to make space for Route 80



The presentation team consists of three members of Centre’s community: One faculty member and two students, who all have both research and personal experience in Eastern Kentucky.

Dr. Amy Frederick is an assistant professor of Art History who has been on Centre’s campus for the last four years, teaching a variety of Art History and Humanities courses and serving as a research adviser for a variety of initiatives at Centre, from Centre’s prestigious John C. Young Fellowship to summer research on Rembrandt van Rijn. Dr. Frederick was a mentor for the the first year of Centre’s Creative Thinking Immersion Program (CTIP), where she served as primary adviser for three students on a project of their own design looking into the cultural, economic, and environmental development and changes of Eastern Kentucky in the face of the decline of the traditional coal economy. Additionally, she teaches a course at Centre on the history and methods of Art, Craft, and Design, with Appalachian art and its role in the development of Berea College playing a significant role in the curriculum. A native of Kentucky, she is passionate about how new economic models (art, tourism, sustainable small farms) might benefit her beloved state. On campus, Dr. Frederick serves as a professor, academic adviser, research adviser, and as a member of The 2018 Poverty and Homelessness Week Committee.

amy frederick.PNG
Dr. Frederick’s, Professor at Centre College

Michael Baird is a senior Art History Major, International Studies Minor at Centre College; Michael lives in northeastern Kentucky, in the community of Flatwoods, where his father has been a working member of the coal industry for more than 25 years. Michael’s first in-depth involvement with Eastern Kentucky came as one of the student developers and researchers for the Creative TIP program where he, along with two other students and Dr. Frederick, spent the summer traveling throughout Eastern Kentucky, interviewing people, seeing heritage sites, and doing intensive academic research into the cultural and political intricacies of the area. This initial work led to a second summer continuation of the project, with a focus on narrative collection and application to environmental, economic, and social problems. It was during this second summer that Michael also served as an intern at the Kentucky Museum of Arts and Crafts in Louisville, Kentucky which highlights the variations of Kentucky craft art. As a point of personal interest and passion, Michael has done research on the discrepancy between how folk and craft art are considered against other mediums and is seeking to change the narrative of how those forms of art are viewed which has the potentially to directly impact the huge craft industry of Eastern Kentucky, particularly out of institutions such as Berea College and the City of Hindman. On campus Michael serves as the Secretary of The Art Society, the Philanthropy Chair of STAND: The Student Service Initiative, as a student Art History Representative, as a member of the Newman Club, as a Junior Marshall of the class of 2019, and as a member of the 2018 Poverty and Homelessness Week Committee.

Michael in Pikeville, Kentucky: Summer, 2016

Hannah Gibbs is a senior Environmental Studies major at Centre College and an Eastern Kentucky native. Born and raised in Laurel County, Kentucky, Hannah has spent most of her life living in and around the mountains of Eastern Kentucky with family who live mainly in Pike County, the easternmost county in the state. In her time at Centre, Hannah also worked as one of the developers and student researchers for Creative TIP and spent the next summer working with Michael on the continuation of that research project with a research grant she received from the Garden Club of America which eventually published her project write-up in their annual review. Additionally, in her environmental coursework at Centre, Hannah has spent a good deal of time working with projects related to both the story and past of Eastern Kentucky, including a comprehensive Environmental Justice case file of Harlan County, Kentucky, a research project on the cultural, economic, and environmental impact of a solar energy development overhaul in Eastern Kentucky, and in work on a project that would serve as an opportunity for Eastern Kentucky veterans to have access to both rooftop solar and green energy installation training programs. Hannah’s hope is to work in environmental policy development and analysis with a goal of working towards the revitalization of Eastern Kentucky through both sustainable development and environmental education. On campus, Hannah serves as President of STAND: The Student Service Initiative, as a Resident Assistant, as a member of Centre College’s Bonner Program, as a Campus Coordinator for Teach for America, as a member of the Sustainability Council, as a member of Alpha Phi Omega: Theta Theta Chapter, as a SHECP Intern at Capstone Community Action Vermont, as the Coordinator of Poverty and Homelessness Week 2018, and as the Director of the 2018 Poverty and Homelessness Week Committee.

Hannah in Benham, KY: Summer 2017

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