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Reformers to Radicals

The Appalachian Volunteers and the War on Poverty

In his inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy challenged Americans to do something for their country. Thousands of young people answered his call, launching an era of flourishing social activism that eclipsed any in U.S. history. Citizens rallied behind an endless variety of social justice organizations to change the country's social and political landscape. As these social movements gained momentum, the severe poverty of the Appalachian region attracted the attention of many spirited young Americans. In 1964, a group of them formed the Appalachian Volunteers, an organization intent on eradicating poverty in eastern Kentucky and the rest of the Southern mountains. In Reformers to Radicals: The Appalachian Volunteers and the War on Poverty, Thomas Kiffmeyer documents the history of this organization as their youthful enthusiasm led to radicalism and controversy. Known informally as the AVs, these reformers sought to improve the everyday lives of the Appalachian poor while also making strides toward lasting economic change in the region. Considering themselves "poverty warriors," the AVs helped residents by refurbishing schools and homes and by offering much-needed educational opportunities, including job training and remedial academic instruction. Their efforts brought temporary relief to the Appalachian poor, but controversy was soon to follow. Within two years of the group's formation, they faced nationwide accusations that they were "seditious" and "un-American." Kiffmeyer explains how these activists, who worked for a worthy cause, ignited a firestorm of public criticism that ultimately caused their mission to fail. Before the decade was over, the Volunteers had lost the support of the federal and state governments and of many Appalachian people—an irreversible setback that caused the group to disband in 1970. The Appalachian Volunteers' failure was caused by multiple factors. They were overtly political, attracting divisive reactions from local and state governments. They were indecisive in defining the true nature of their cause, creating dissension within the group's ranks. They were engaged in a struggle to "integrate" the poor into mainstream American culture, which alienated the AVs from many of the very people they sought to help. They were also caught up in the unrest of the civil rights and anti–Vietnam War movements, which distracted them from their core mission. Reformers to Radicals chronicles a critical era in Appalachian history while also investigating the impact the 1960s' reform attitude had on one part of a broader movement in the United States. Kiffmeyer revisits an era in which idealistic young Americans, spurred on by President Kennedy's call to action, set out to remake America.

About the Author

Thomas J. Kiffmeyer, associate professor of history at Morehead State University, is the author of numerous reviews and articles.

Review

"Winner of the 2010 Kentucky Archives Month Certificate of Merit for Writing or Other Production."

"This work will do much to fill what I believe is a real vacuum in twentieth-century Appalachian historiography. Tom Kiffmeyer tells a gripping, human story."—Chad Berry, author of Southern Migrants, Northern Exiles"

""Thoroughly researched, well-written, and judicious in tone, the enduring contribution of Reformers to Radicals is in delineating the limits of liberal reformism in a region like Central Appalachia where inequality is so entrenched that only a thorough political restructuring will bring about democratic change."—Ronald L. Lewis, Robbins Chair and Professor Emeritus, West Virginia University"

""Kiffmeyer deepens our understanding of Appalachia's history during the 1960s, when the region was on the front line of the War on Poverty. His succinct, dynamic account of the Appalachian Volunteers highlights the multilayered, powerful challenges facing antipoverty warriors both within and outside the mountains and reveals yet another dimension of the unanticipated consequences of liberal reform during a tumultuous era in American history."—John Mathew Glenn, Author of Highlander: No Ordinary School"

""Reformers to Radicals provides a compelling case study of the political and social tensions that enveloped the United States in the 1960s. Kiffmeyer places AVs' story into the national narrative of a radical, oppositional consciousness emerging out of the idealism of the civil rights movement and the Great Society."—Rob Weise, Associate Professor of History, Eastern Kentucky University"

""This work will do much to fill what I believe is a real vacuum in twentieth-century Appalachian historiography. Kiffmeyer tells a gripping, human story."—Chad Berry,Appalachian Heritage"

""His succinct, dynamic account of the Appalachian Volunteers highlights the multilayered, powerful challenges facing antipoverty warriors, both within and outside the mountains, and reveals yet another dimension of the unanticipated consequences of liberal reform during a tumultuous era in American history."—John Matthew Glenn, Appalachian Heritage"

""As a detailed overview of a critically important but under-examined chapter in Appalachian history, Reformers to Radicals is a welcome contribution to the scholarship"— Chad Montrie, North Carolina Historical Review"

""The treatment of the clash of cultures the War on Poverty brought to the mountains is the strongest aspect of the bookKiffmeyer does a nice job fitting the story into the context of the sixties."—William Clayson, Register of the Kentucky Historical Society"

"Kiffmeyer blames [the failure of the Appalachian Volunteers] on its paternalistic outsider mentality, which alienated every group the AV worked with, and the power of local elites. Recommended."—Choice"

"Reformers to Radicals provides a valuable contribution to Appalachian and American historiography. It is necessary reading for anyone interested in understanding modern Appalachia's struggle with indigence or the War on Poverty's inability to provide solid and lasting solutions for such a persistent and pervasive problem."—Jinny Turman-Deal, contributor to West Virginia History: An Open Access Reader"

"Reading this book, one is gripped by a sense of tragedy...Well researched and vigorously written, this book provides great insights into why the War on Poverty failed."— Journal of American History"

"Both timely and long overdue...Reformers to Radicals is an impressive accomplishment documenting the history of the Appalachian Volunteers."—Appalachian Journal"

"Ashmore and Kiffmeyer offer a powerful indictment of the operation of the War on Poverty on the ground, contribute to an understanding of public policy issues, and, in Ashmore's case, add to our knowledge of the civil rights movement after its glory years." —American Historical Review"

"[Kiffmeyer] places the federally funded Appalachian Volunteers, drawn from the ranks of college students, at the center of his story. . . . [he] offers a powerful indictment of the operation of the War on Poverty on the ground."—American Historical Review"

"Reformers to Radicals address the many factors that led to the demise of the Appalachian Volunteers in 1970, the most important being the massive repression by local, state, and national political leaders."—Journal of Southern History"

"This well reasoned and meticulously documented work of scholarship should prove useful to southern historians, students of the Great Society era, and anyone interested in the dynamics of social reform movements."—The Southeastern Librarian"—

9780813125091 : reformers-to-radicals-kiffmeyer
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