Political Persuasions

The activist context of the 60’s had much to do with the shape of the SHC political mission. The civil rights movement had only just begun to celebrate the success of the civil rights legislation of 1964. LBJ had declared unconditional war on poverty just as the Coalition got its start. New federal programs like Head Start and food stamps were getting built. LBJs less savory legacy of the war in Vietnam affected activism in a vigorous anti-war movement, nurtured on college campuses around the country. The risk of the draft for all young men flavored life with an immediacy hard to over estimate.

The reading list for SHC orientation, insofar as we can reconstruct it from memory and scanty record, reflects an awareness, if not quite an intellecutal embrace, of contemporary political theorists. Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. Regis Debray’s Revolution in the Revolution. Ghandi. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Literature on the the Appalachian story also became increasingly available during those years, particularly as the War on Poverty took shape. Appalachia, as the NYTimes describes it even on April 21, 2014 ‘has supplied some of America’s iconic imagery of rural poverty since the Depression-era photos of Walker Evans.” Walker Evans’ Let us now praise famous men, was itself on the SHC reading list. So was Night comes to the Cumberland by Harry Caudill.

But a political philosophy per se for the SHC was never well articulated. Far more than an expression of any particular political strategy, the work was anti-establishment. It was colored by a predictable and motivating distrust of anyone in authority. And the collaboration with a rural population long used to outsider status, rarely benefiting from the American dream, provided for a perhaps inevitable marriage made in heaven between disaffected students and disaffected residents of the rural and inner city south.