- The Washington Times - Monday, August 30, 2004

WHITESBURG, Ky. (AP) — With eight children, Betty Terrill didn’t see gardening as a hobby years ago. It was a necessity.

The Wolfe County woman sat before Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in 1968 and explained how her family survived in the mountains of eastern Kentucky on an income of $69 a month.

“What do your children have to eat?” Mr. Kennedy asked on a fact-finding tour of the region.

“We raise our own hogs and have a cow, and we always raise a garden,” she replied.

By all accounts, times were tough in central Appalachia in the late 1960s, and Mr. Kennedy was getting a firsthand look as chairman of the Senate subcommittee on employment, manpower and poverty.

Next month, local residents plan to re-enact Mr. Kennedy’s tour to provide a fresh look at the communities he visited when he came to eastern Kentucky to gauge the effectiveness of the war on poverty.

People organizing the massive re-enactment, which will take place Sept. 9-11 in towns from Whitesburg to Prestonsburg, say the project will foster appreciation for the major economic improvements in the region over the past 36 years.

“It will let us see that there has been great progress made,” said Nell Fields, the project coordinator for Appalshop, an organization helping to orchestrate the re-enactment.

After stops in communities such as Vortex, Neon and Hazard, Mr. Kennedy concluded that the anti-poverty programs then in existence had failed to adequately raise the standard of living in the mountains so that people didn’t go hungry.

“Family after family still survives on beans and potatoes or rice, cornbread and fat back,” Mr. Kennedy said at the time. “In many of the counties of eastern Kentucky, more than half of the adult men, sometimes over three quarters, have no work.”

John Malpede, director of the “RFK in EKY” re-enactment, said audiences will be able to compare the past with present-day eastern Kentucky based on testimony in transcripts from Mr. Kennedy’s public hearings.

“The idea is to revisit a moment in history that was significant to the community and see how it resonates now,” Mr. Malpede said.

John Faust, a Hazard lawyer who will play Mr. Kennedy, said he has studied the transcripts of the hearings in order to deliver the speeches, portions of which talk about trash blighting the region, environmental damage caused by coal mining, and poor families in need of better housing.

“So many of the problems that he saw in 1968 still exist today,” Mr. Faust said. “We will always have the poor among us. We’ll always be working to alleviate their problems.”

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