Exploitation of Nature and Human Beings in Coal Country: Harry Caudill and George Orwell


We live in one of the many coal regions in the world. If we could read Spanish or Chinese we would discover many corresponding woes have been written about the coal industry, but since we are English speaking, I will focus on two writers in our language—Harry Caudill (1922-1990) and George Orwell (1903-1950).

Harry Caudill is a native son who wrote Night Comes to the Cumberlands in the 1960s. He considered his work a biography of a region and its people. This history of the Cumberland Plateau spans hundreds of years and starts with the people who settled in the mountain areas.  Their frontier way of life continued on in the beautiful isolation of nature. However, like many areas without schools and roads, the people of the region went about their way of life oblivious that the majority of the nation was moving on in education and job skills.

When outside industry came into the region the people were not prepared to stand up for their land or themselves. It started with the timber companies, and then the coal companies followed. Coal became king, and the people became serfs to the companies and the nation’s need for coal.

Though this work was written in the 1960s, I found it full of interesting insights to much of what happened in the mountainous area of our state. However, as I read I had underlying concerns about some things that were being said about the people. On one hand, Harry seemed to state that education of all of America’s citizens should be a priority and the strength of the nation. Yet, he seemed to express some hopelessness in doing so among the mountain people.

This conflict within Harry came from William Shockley’s work on human intelligence and eugenics. Shockley was a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, but it was his political views that caught Harry’s attention. These opinions added doubt to the equation of the education of mountain people and of the poor in general. Shockley believed people of low IQs should be paid to voluntarily be sterilized.  He thought that the breeding of lower IQ people added to the weakness of the nation. In Harry’s writing, you can hear an inward struggle over the two opposing views of education vs. sterilization in dealing with America’s poor. He does not speak about such eugenics in his book, but the reader is aware that some kind of conflict is going on as Harry discusses the high birth rate of mountain people, low intelligence, and their use of the welfare system. Yet, he also addresses the need for good schools, better roads, and shoes for the children to wear as they walk mountainous terrain to school.

I believe the power of education won the battle inside Harry’s heart and mind, possibly thanks to the influence of fellow Kentuckian Jesse Stuart, who wrote, “Not let the talent of any pupil born upon this earth with a fair amount of intelligence, be lost to the whole of humanity. Teach them to protect, and where possible rebuild natural resources that had been selfishly destroyed by lust for the dirty dollar. Teach them to think about good, honest government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” As a lawyer, Harry saw a lot of defeat in the eyes of those who walked through his office, when educator Jesse Stuart saw the spark of interest in his poor students.

Whether the student is a turtle or a rabbit or anything in between, education is crucial in making America strong with skilled and informed citizens. Poverty is a smothering state that can suck the life and ambition out of any human being, no matter their level of intelligence. The longer you live in poverty, the more despair and defeat makes you settle with your enemy—a Stockholm syndrome of circumstances. Harry witnessed this defeat daily in the people and children around him.

This brings us to George Orwell and his work The Road to Wigan Pier. Most of us know George Orwell because of his fiction; however, Orwell considered himself a journalist addressing issues and revealing how the lower and working classes lived.  George was raised middle class, and openly confesses he was taught to loathe and mock those “beneath” him.  As an adult, he made it one of his missions to report on the lives of human beings trying to make their way through poverty. Orwell uses dashes of humor, irony, and sarcasm in his reporting as he tries to reach his middle-class peers.

Orwell’s work takes place between the World Wars and is part investigative reporting, and part an epistle to his own social class. The main focus is Wigan Pier, located on the canal between the cities of Liverpool and Leeds in northwestern England. He writes about the working and living conditions of the coal miners and their families, addressing the diet, health, injuries, clothing, bed linens, and human waste, as well as, how coal miners lived when unemployed or homeless. He talks about the British version of the welfare system, and he does not leave out what coal mining was doing to the land in Wigan Pier. In the latter part of the book, George addresses class barriers and how, even during his lodging with the coal miners, it was hard to transcend this barricade.

Harry and George recorded what they observed in their generation regarding the utilization of the land and people by the coal industry. We need to learn from what they wrote and from others who followed them. If we read about the past, we will not be blindsided again and again. We need to do as Jesse Stuart said: “Teach them (the students) to protect, and where possible rebuild natural resources that had been selfishly destroyed by lust for the dirty dollar.” If we teach ourselves and our children our beautiful land will suffer less in future generations.

Jesse Stuart’s quote is from The Thread That Runs So True.

Here are other books to check out at your library dealing with the subject of coal:

  • Stand Up That Mountain by Jay Erskine Leutze
  • Coal Wars by Richard Martin
  • Something’s Rising: Appalachians Fighting Mountaintop Removal edited by Silas House
  • Moving Mountains by Penny Loeb
  • Plundering Appalachia: The Tragedy of Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining
  • Daughters of the Mountain: Women Coal Miners in Central Appalachia by Suzanne E. Tallichet
  • A Guide to Historic Coal Towns of the Big Sandy River Valley by George D. Torok
  • The Buffalo Creek Disaster by Gerald M. Stern
  • Muddy Branch: Memories of an Eastern Kentucky Coal Camp by Clyde Roy Pack
  • Harlan Miners Speak: Report on Terrorism in the Kentucky Coal Fields by Members of the National Committee for the Defense
  • Work and Faith in the Kentucky Coal Fields by Richard J. Callahan, Jr.
  • Coal Miners’ Wives: Portraits of Endurance by Carol A. B. Giesen
  • Women of Coal by Randall Norris and Jean-Philippe Cyprès


~ Article and graphics by T.J. Cunning



Library Happenings – June 2019

Library Happenings June Banner

There is lots to do at YOUR Rowan County Public Library- take a look for yourself!

Our programming coordinators have been working diligently to offer unique and fun events for you and your family. Download or view the attached PDF titled, “Library Happenings – June” to be in the know about what we are doing at the Library.

Next time you stop by the Library to check out a movie, book, magazine, or even a dulcimer, ask our staff for a copy of our “Quarterly Newsletter” and a printed copy of the current “Library Happenings.”

CLICK HERE –> Library Happenings-June-2019

We hope to see you at the Library!


SR is here Banner

Marketing Dept.
Dawn Sargent

RCPL Summer Reading Tees

Never before have we had our very own Summer Reading t-Shirt design- until now!

IMG_9871 - Copy

When preparing for our annual Summer Reading program, I had an idea to make our own shirt design hence participants would have something themed to wear to our programs and show off their Summer Reading attire. Plus, it’s really cool, too!


A few years ago, we took orders for themed t-shirts and ordered them with the copyrighted logo from Upstart our Summer Reading vendor. But these were not free and patrons had to purchase them. I wanted to try something different this year that would be cost efficient for everyone. This way anyone ages 5+ could have their own RCPL Summer Reading tee for very cheap- possibly free.

We organized a two-session event where Summer Reading participants would drop off their plain cotton blend tees and they enjoyed a stenciling craft in the Community Room. The children made lots of cool space-themed designs!


Tees were printed after hours in the Library. Take a peek here at the whole process from design to print!



First, I looked online at some space themed images and our Summer Reading themed materials for design inspiration. I got the idea of drawing a large Saturn like planet as the focal point of the design. I sketched it out with a light blue erasable pencil then outlined it with a fine point drawing marker. In some areas, I went over it twice and drew the lines thicker (this is essential for the printing process.)


Next, I scanned the drawing and converted it into a vector image in Adobe Illustrator changing the design a bit and colored in certain areas with the printing process in mind. All the black areas will be ink when the design is on the shirt. All the white area will be the stencil.

Editing image

Special thanks to Eddie Johnson at Ole Seasons Shoppe in Morehead, KY for making us the screen for our program! Making a screen is complicated and requires certain chemicals. It was much easier to get the screen made for this event rather than order materials just for one screen.


Above left – Final design image
Above right – Final design on screen


Now it’s time to print some shirts!

Step 1 – gather supplies and set up your area near a water source (preferably a sink with a sprayer.) Stir ink and get it ready for printing. When you stir it helps to soften the ink for transferring through the screen.

Step 2 – Spray the tee board with a washable spray adhesive. Pull the tee onto the board and smooth out all wrinkles.

Step 3 – Place a large amount of ink in the well (inside) of the screen. Spread it evenly on the design without pressure. Pull screen all the way down onto the shirt.
Using a squeegee, apply pressure down and pull the squeegee down (towards your body.)


Work fast! The ink dries if left out too long! If the ink on the screen dries you will have to wash it out then let it dry before printing again.

NOTE: I suggest not using too much ink because you can flood the screen and your design will bleed. Also, I am using a water-based ink specialized for printing on fabric.


Step 4 – After, printing be careful when you pull your tee off the board to not smudge your design. Lay the shirt design side up to dry overnight or for a few hours.

Step 5 – Lay a piece of parchment paper on top of the design then iron with the cotton setting.

You can test to see if the ink is dry by rubbing it with your finger. If there is no ink, then it’s dry!

More stencil event photos:






Provided is a link to my screen printing kit if anyone is interested in doing this as a hobby- it’s a lot of fun! This is a brief description of my process. All details are not listed. If you are interested in more information I suggest researching on YouTube and watching tutorial videos. That’s how I learned to do it!

DIY Screen Printing Kit



Until next time, happy designing!

Article by Dawn Sargent
Project by Dawn Sargent



Opiate of the People: The Power of “The Story” in the Marketplace


We all have heard Engels and Marx’s statement, and looking at politics in America arguments can be made. Opiates are in the news as health organizations from the local to the national level are stating that America’s problem is just that—opiates. However, I see the major opiate of America as “the story” and all the market greed involved in the telling and selling of it.  From the real story, the fake story that might be true, the fictional story, to the story that unfolds in the maze of the game, we are enthralled and stupefied by “the story.”

You can say to me, “But you are a librarian in a public library which is filled with the marketed story in many forms.” Yes, this is true.  However, I feel the major function of public libraries is to support schools and continuing education; entertainment is secondary to this scholarly duty.

Andrew Carnegie funded the construction of many libraries.  He believed in providing the means for determined and diligent citizens to better themselves through the pursuit of self-study. Even as I write this I feel I should take the time to explain who Andrew Carnegie is in American history, and I find this the sad state of America.

However, I believe in the education of the lower class and working class citizens of this nation. In every class and race of people, there are bright and gifted minds to which libraries should provide nourishment.  In America, many of the famous people in our history have risen from the ranks of the poor, even Carnegie himself.  This is why he believed in the power of libraries to change lives.

When you are poor in America, there are no safety nets, coaches, or tutors—only an abundance of indifference. This is what Carnegie knew and experienced, himself, as a young man. However, he also knew a poor but talented human being can take control of their own destiny and be single-minded in their pursuit of knowledge and life skills.

This is what I want to encourage in our patrons. We have Pulitzer and National Book Award winners in the library collection. College-bound students or life-long learning students may want to read the good, bad, and ugly of the Western canon. Grassroots citizens with this reading knowledge can understand what the intelligentsia are saying as they name-drop in their writings, discussions, and commentaries.

You may not see the value in reading Plato’s Republic, but there is value in bettering your math, vocabulary, and writing skills. You may not want to read Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations or St. Augustine’s Confessions, but you might want to know how to be a better small farm manager or how to understand a blueprint. At your public library, you can learn more than the new mass media story emerging in fiction, DVDs, video games or magazines; you can learn life skills and build upon your basic educational knowledge.

There are excellent and enriching items in our non-fiction section.  I will be writing a series of blogs on some of the treasures that can be found on our shelves.


~ Written by T. J. Cunning
RCPL Catalog Manager

Library Happenings – May 2019

Library Happenings May Banner

There is lots to do at YOUR Rowan County Public Library- take a look for yourself!

Our programming coordinators have been working diligently to offer unique and fun events for you and your family. Download or view the attached PDF titled, “Library Happenings – May” to be in the know about what we are doing at the Library.

Next time you stop by the Library to check out a movie, book, magazine, or even a dulcimer, ask our staff for a copy of our “Quarterly Newsletter” and a printed copy of the current “Library Happenings.”

CLICK HERE –> Library Happenings-May-2019

We hope to see you at the Library!

SR is coming Banner

Marketing Dept.
Dawn Sargent

RCPL Newsletter Issue 06

New Issue

NEW ISSUE is available!

Be in the know of Library news and special events! Sign up for the Rowan County Public Library Quarterly Newsletter by sending an email to marketing@rowancountylibrary.org or by signing up at rowancountylibrary.org for digital issues. You may also download the newest issue below! Or pick up a printed copy at the Library.



Library Happenings – April

Library Happenings Banner April
There is lots to do at YOUR Rowan County Public Library- take a look for yourself!

Our programming coordinators have been working diligently to offer unique and fun events for you and your family. Download or view the attached PDF titled, “Library Happenings – April” to be in the know about what we are doing at the Library.

Next time you stop by the Library to check out a movie, book, magazine, or even a dulcimer, ask our staff for a copy of our “Quarterly Newsletter” and a printed copy of the current “Library Happenings.”

CLICK HERE –>  Library Happenings-April-2019

We hope to see you at the Library!


Marketing Dept.
Dawn Sargent 

We Have A New App!

librista ad

There are lots of changes taking place at the Library for your enjoyment and benefit! We have recently switched Library systems that control our cataloging and catalog for browsing through our inventory. This new system will offer many features that we didn’t offer before, such as, text notifications for holds and notices, “Book Bags” for future reads (similar to a wish list,) Reading Lists, a “Watch List” for your favorite authors, and a new Library app!

Text Notifications
Text notifications are now available for hold and due date notifications. Tell circulation staff to add this feature to your account!

Book Bags
Take advantage of this new feature in the catalog! Now you can make book bags (wish lists) for trips, school semesters, topics, or whatever you like!

Reading Lists
Reading lists will be available for suggested readings and special Library book displays.

Watch List
Do you love reading from the same author? Get notified when items are available from your favorite author!

Our New App, Librista!
The old app, RCPL2GO, is no longer accessible for patron use. We are migrating to a new app that will sync with our new system called Librista. Download it onto your iPhone or Android device and take the Library with you wherever you go!

librista logo

CLICK BELOW for instructions on how to use our new app.

Morehead is on the Map! PBS Great American Read Series at YOUR Local Library

TGAR final map PP

When the Public Broadcasting System, which KET is our local affiliate, began a program in May of this year, the Rowan County Public Library decided to jump on board of the Great American Read train!

The Great American Read was an eight-part series that explored the power of reading and highlighted America’s 100 best-loved novels (as chosen in a national survey).  As part of the series, all were encouraged to vote nationwide and choose America’s best-loved book.

If you visit the website of the Great American Read https://www.pbs.org/the-great-american-read/home/ you can read about the series and view (by streaming) all of the episodes.  There is also a list of the 100 books in the order they were voted upon nationwide.  To Kill a Mockingbird was voted as the number one best-loved book!

Little did we know at RCPL when we started planning the events, that we would be recognized in the finale which was televised on October 23rd.  But yes, indeed, Morehead made the map!

The Rowan County Public Library decided to participate by having a kick-off program prior to the first PBS episode on September 11th.  We then held Monday Lunch Bunch programs every Monday for the next six weeks prior to the Tuesday PBS episode.  Food was provided by the RCPL Friends of the Library and we discussed every genre and more!  It was a two-hour long program for anyone to drop in at their leisure, but many had such a good time they stayed for the whole two hours.

After our kick-off program on Friday, September 7th, a producer from PBS contacted our Community Relations Coordinator, Dawn Sargent, because they had viewed our Instagram post with their hashtag #GreatReadPBS.  The producer asked Dawn to send her everything that we were doing and that we may be included in the finale!

When the finale was telecast on October 23rd on PBS, they did highlight two libraries and their programs, but they also highlighted public libraries across the United States that had participated on a national map and we made the map!

If you want to see that part of the finale episode it is at the 13:55 mark, with the map with Morehead, KY pinned at the 14:28 mark.  Of course, you will enjoy it so much more if you watch the whole episode!


This program and series has spurned interest in starting book discussion groups in the future and the library is looking forward to getting the ball rolling for their patrons.  Also, to help encourage the purpose of the Great American Read, RCPL is offering for any patron to stop by and fill out a checklist of the 100 books they have read to receive a free book.  Stop by and ask at the circulation desk for details between now and December 31st!

Stay up to date on all of our events and programs:

  • by visiting our website at rowancountylibrary.org
  • download our app RCPL2GO
  • follow us on Facebook, Rowan County Public Library
  • follow us @RowanPublicLib on twitter
  • follow us rowancountylib on Instagram

Julie Carroll, Assistant Director, who coordinated the programs for the Great American Read would like for all residents of Rowan County to know what a treasure awaits at YOUR public library.  Yes, we made the national map, but remember we are right in your backyard!  Come see us and don’t miss out!


Article by Julie Grannis Carroll
Graphics by Dawn Sargent

Stay Warm & Cozy at home with YOUR RCPL!

Family using digital tablet

No need to get out when you can stay warm and cozy at home in your pajamas, right?

Take advantage of your Rowan County Public Library card to access FREE digital services in your home or anywhere! Simply log in with your library card number and PIN to stream movies, music, audiobooks, and to read eBooks, graphic novels, eMagazines, craft eBooks, and more! Visit rowancountylibrary.org/research and click on the tab labeled with the type of service you are looking for.

Use hoopla for streaming movies, music, audio books, reading eBooks, and graphic novels.

Use OverDrive for reading eBooks and eMagazines, Perry Ellis Collection (Local Historical Documents,) and listening to audio books.

Use Freegal to stream and download the latest hits!

Use RBDigital to download popular eMagazines.

Use Tumblebooks for children’s eBooks, audiobooks, games & activities for Juvenile, JE, and Easy

Use Mango for learning a new language! Interactive learning classes in 70+ languages.

Use Cypress Resume for help with writing a resume.

Driver Test practice classes & more!

Want the physical book instead? Our bookmobile will come to your house! Call and ask for Donna to schedule an appointment!  (606) 784-7137

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