Harry M. Caudill

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Harry M. Caudill
BornHarry Monroe Caudill
(1922-05-03)May 3, 1922
Whitesburg, Kentucky, USA
DiedNovember 29, 1990(1990-11-29) (aged 68)
Whitesburg, Kentucky, USA
OccupationAuthor, historian, lawyer, legislator, and environmentalist
Notable works Night Comes to the Cumberlands
SpouseAnne Robertson (Frye) Caudill (19462016)

Harry M. Caudill (May 3, 1922 November 29, 1990) was an American author, historian, lawyer, legislator, and environmentalist from Letcher County, in the coalfields of southeastern Kentucky.

Americans Citizens, or natives, of the United States of America

Americans are nationals and citizens of the United States of America. Although nationals and citizens make up the majority of Americans, some dual citizens, expatriates, and permanent residents may also claim American nationality. The United States is home to people of many different ethnic origins. As a result, American culture and law does not equate nationality with race or ethnicity, but with citizenship and permanent allegiance.

Letcher County, Kentucky U.S. county in Kentucky

Letcher County is a county located in the U.S. state of Kentucky. As of the 2010 census, the population was 24,519. Its county seat is Whitesburg. The county, founded in 1842, is named for Robert P. Letcher, Governor of Kentucky from 1840 to 1844.

Kentucky American state

Kentucky, officially the Commonwealth of Kentucky, is a state located in the east south-central region of the United States. Although styled as the "State of Kentucky" in the law creating it,, Kentucky is one of four U.S. states constituted as a commonwealth. Originally a part of Virginia, in 1792 Kentucky split from it and became the 15th state to join the Union. Kentucky is the 37th most extensive and the 26th most populous of the 50 United States.



Caudill served in World War II as a private in the U.S. Army and was elected three times as to the Kentucky State House of Representatives. He taught in the History Department at the University of Kentucky from 1976 to 1984.

World War II 1939–1945, between Axis and Allies

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from more than 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 70 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Kentucky House of Representatives Lower house of the Kentucky General Assembly

The Kentucky House of Representatives is the lower house of the Kentucky General Assembly. It is composed of 100 Representatives elected from single-member districts throughout the Commonwealth. Not more than two counties can be joined to form a House district, except when necessary to preserve the principle of equal representation. Representatives are elected to two-year terms with no term limits. The Kentucky House of Representatives convenes at the State Capitol in Frankfort.

University of Kentucky Public research university in Lexington, KY, USA

The University of Kentucky (UK) is a public co-educational university in Lexington, Kentucky. Founded in 1865 by John Bryan Bowman as the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Kentucky, the university is one of the state's two land-grant universities, the largest college or university in the state, with 30,720 students as of Fall 2015, and the highest ranked research university in the state according to U.S. News and World Report.

A common theme explored in many of Caudill's writings is the historic underdevelopment of the Appalachian region (particularly his own home area of southeastern Kentucky). In several of his books (most prominently Night Comes to the Cumberlands , 1962) and many of his published articles, he probes the historical poverty of the region, which he attributes in large part to the rapacious policies of the coal mining industries active in the region, as well as their backers: bankers of the northeastern United States. He notes that such interests most often had their headquarters not in Appalachia but in the Northeast or Midwest, and thus failed to properly reinvest their sizable profits in the Appalachian region. Following publication of Night Comes to the Cumberlands, President John F. Kennedy appointed a commission to investigate conditions in the region and subsequently more than $15 billion in aid was invested in the region over twenty-five years. [1]

Appalachia Region

Appalachia is a cultural region in the Eastern United States that stretches from the Southern Tier of New York to northern Alabama and Georgia. While the Appalachian Mountains stretch from Belle Isle in Canada to Cheaha Mountain in Alabama, the cultural region of Appalachia typically refers only to the central and southern portions of the range, from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, southwesterly to the Great Smoky Mountains. As of the 2010 United States Census, the region was home to approximately 25 million people.

<i>Night Comes to the Cumberlands</i>

Night Comes to the Cumberlands (1963) is a book by Harry Caudill that brought attention to poverty in Appalachia and is credited with making the Appalachian area a focus of the United States government's "War on Poverty". In Poverty in the United States: an encyclopedia of history, politics, and policy, the book is described as a "definitive text on poverty in Appalachia among journalists, academics, and government bureaucrats concerned with economic inequality in America."

Coal mining Process of getting coal out of the ground

Coal mining is the process of extracting coal from the ground. Coal is valued for its energy content and since the 1880s, has been widely used to generate electricity. Steel and cement industries use coal as a fuel for extraction of iron from iron ore and for cement production. In the United Kingdom and South Africa, a coal mine and its structures are a colliery, a coal mine - a pit, and the above-ground structures - a pit head. In Australia, "colliery" generally refers to an underground coal mine. In the United States, "colliery" has been used to describe a coal mine operation but nowadays the word is not commonly used.

In his later years he became an active opponent of the rapidly growing practice of strip mining as practiced by companies working in Appalachia, which he believed was causing irreparable harm to the land and its people. He published articles in many magazines in addition to speaking out about the subject. Caudill pointed out that strip mining could be done responsibly as in England, Germany, and Czechoslovakia where topsoil, subsoil, and rocks are removed separately and placed back in layers in their original order. [2]

England Country in north-west Europe, part of the United Kingdom

England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to the west and Scotland to the north. The Irish Sea lies west of England and the Celtic Sea to the southwest. England is separated from continental Europe by the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south. The country covers five-eighths of the island of Great Britain, which lies in the North Atlantic, and includes over 100 smaller islands, such as the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight.

Germany Federal parliamentary republic in central-western Europe

Germany, officially the Federal Republic of Germany, is a country in Central and Western Europe, lying between the Baltic and North Seas to the north and the Alps, Lake Constance and the High Rhine to the south. It borders Denmark to the north, Poland and the Czech Republic to the east, Austria and Switzerland to the south, France to the southwest, and Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands to the west.

Czechoslovakia 1918–1992 country in Central Europe, predecessor of the Czech Republic and Slovakia

Czechoslovakia, or Czecho-Slovakia, was a sovereign state in Central Europe that existed from October 1918, when it declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until its peaceful dissolution into the Czech Republic and Slovakia on 1 January 1993.

Caudill became interested in the work of William Shockley, a scientist with controversial eugenicist stances at Stanford University in California. Caudill came to believe in Shockley's theory of "dysgenics," the argument that unintelligent people weaken the genes of a "race" over time. He felt that "genetic decline" in Eastern Kentucky contributed to issues of poverty. "The slobs continue to multiply," Caudill wrote in a 1975 letter to Time magazine. The editors of Time rejected Caudill's letter. [3]

He also produced several volumes of folklore and oral history, which he collected himself from residents of the area centering on Letcher County and Harlan County, Kentucky. One of those oral history interviews in 1941 of a man who would have been about 90 years old, was the basis for the 1995 movie, Pharaoh's Army , starring Chris Cooper, Patricia Clarkson, and Kris Kristofferson.

Folklore Legends, music, oral history, proverbs, jokes, popular beliefs, fairy tales, etc.

Folklore is the expressive body of culture shared by a particular group of people; it encompasses the traditions common to that culture, subculture or group. These include oral traditions such as tales, proverbs and jokes. They include material culture, ranging from traditional building styles to handmade toys common to the group. Folklore also includes customary lore, the forms and rituals of celebrations such as Christmas and weddings, folk dances and initiation rites. Each one of these, either singly or in combination, is considered a folklore artifact. Just as essential as the form, folklore also encompasses the transmission of these artifacts from one region to another or from one generation to the next. Folklore is not something one can typically gain in a formal school curriculum or study in the fine arts. Instead, these traditions are passed along informally from one individual to another either through verbal instruction or demonstration. The academic study of folklore is called folklore studies, and it can be explored at undergraduate, graduate and Ph.D. levels.

Oral history collection of information about something recorded through interviews

Oral history is the collection and study of historical information about individuals, families, important events, or everyday life using audiotapes, videotapes, or transcriptions of planned interviews. These interviews are conducted with people who participated in or observed past events and whose memories and perceptions of these are to be preserved as an aural record for future generations. Oral history strives to obtain information from different perspectives and most of these cannot be found in written sources. Oral history also refers to information gathered in this manner and to a written work based on such data, often preserved in archives and large libraries. Knowledge presented by Oral History (OH) is unique in that it shares the tacit perspective, thoughts, opinions and understanding of the interviewee in its primary form.

Harlan County, Kentucky U.S. county in Kentucky

Harlan County is a county located in southeastern Kentucky. As of the 2010 census, the population was 29,278. Its county seat is Harlan.

Caudill killed himself with a gunshot to the head in 1990, faced with an advancing case of Parkinson's disease. [1] He is buried in Battle Grove Cemetery, Cynthiana, Kentucky.


The Harry M. Caudill Library located in Whitesburg, Kentucky, the main library of the Letcher County Public Library District, is named for Caudill.


"And we just can't afford to sit back and watch all that (land) be destroyed so a few people can get rich now. One of these days the dear old federal government is going to have to come in and spend billions of dollars just to repair the damage that's already been done. And guess who will have the machines and the workmen to do the job? The same coal operators who made the mess in the first place will be hired to fix it back, and the taxpayers will bear the cost." [2]

Books by Harry M. Caudill

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  1. 1 2 Glenn Fowler (December 1, 1990). "Harry M. Caudill, 68, Who Told of Appalachian Poverty". New York Times . Retrieved May 16, 2017.
  2. 1 2 David McCullough. Brave Companions: Portraits in History . Simon & Schuster, 1992. p. 163f. ISBN   0-671-79276-8.
  3. Cheves, John; Estep, Bill. "Chapter 4: Disillusioned, Harry Caudill blames 'genetic decline' in Eastern Kentucky". Lexington Herald Leader. Lexington Herald Leader. Retrieved December 10, 2015.

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