20 January 2006

The Roots of Poverty

Did you see Country Boys on Frontline a couple weeks ago? Since I saw it I find myself thinking about Chris and Cody and reading more on Appalachia. The PBS web site has some good articles and I've dug up others that show the history of poverty in the region and why it continues.

As the miniseries did, the records of the Johnson family make the general history personal. We can see the Appalachian themes of illiteracy, ecological exploitation, and internecine fighting played out within the Johnson family.

Randall's father was Noah Johnson. He was born in 1932, two years after the 1930 census. He bacame a mechanic and died at age 68. Here are his parents Eli and Eveline Johnson in 1930. Eli works in a sawmill and they rent their house for $5 a month. Eveline cannot read or write.

Going back to 1910 we find Eli as a son in the household of Daniel R. and Sarah Johnson. Daniel is a farmer and the couple are the parents of 13 children.

In 1932, Daniel Johnson shot and killed his daughter Tiny two days before she was to be brought to the penitentiary for killing her husband. Daniel's sons Eli and Charles testified for the prosecution but were said to have been drunk at the time of the shooting.

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