John McArthur

I’m a native of Blount County in the Smoky Mountain region of East Tennessee. I grew up loving the mountains of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina. I began my college career as a forestry major with the idea of becoming a ranger for the National Park Service. However, after attending three other colleges, I spent my last year at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga and graduated with a degree in Human Services Social Work, which at the time seemed more relevant to the turmoil facing our world. During my senior year of college, I was introduced to J.W. Bradley while working on a project about strip mining in Tennessee. This introduction was arranged by John Kennedy. A few years later in 1974, a chance meeting with John Kennedy led to me being interviewed and hired by the Jacksboro Black Lung Clinic to replace John as the community organizer. My salary was paid through the generosity of the Student Health Coalition, the UMWA Health Fund, and the United Church of Christ. I worked with the Black Lung Clinic and the Black Lung Association until the summer of 1976 when I returned home to Blount County to build a cabin on some of my family’s mountain farm land. I will be forever grateful for the life changing experiences and life long friendships that arose from my time with the Black Lung Association.

While working for the Black Lung clinic, I met Polly McClanahan, who was an SHC member and the first Nurse Practitioner at the St. Charles Clinic in Southwest Virginia. After a long distance courtship, Polly and I married on New Years Eve 1977. We lived the next 10 years in the cabin my father and I had built. Polly took a job as an NP and I worked several jobs as a social worker and a paralegal before heading to law school at UT Knoxville. I owe a debt of gratitude to Neil McBride, John Williams, and Bill Corr for teaching me the value of a legal education and how to use it for the good of the community.

Upon graduation, I became an associate and later a partner with Kizer and Black Attorneys in my hometown, Maryville, Tenn. I practiced law there for the next 34 years in the area of general civil litigation and worked closely with Knoxville Legal Aid Society. During the early years of practice, my firm and I helped establish the Foothills Land Conservancy, which has been extremely effective at protecting thousands of acres surrounding the Smoky Mountains.

Polly and I have three children. After our children were older, Polly returned to school and earned her Master’s degree and PhD in Nursing. Polly taught at the UT College of Nursing until she and I retired in 2017 and moved to Crossville, Tenn. to be near our youngest daughter and her growing family. We currently have 5 grandchildren.

In the summer of 2022, Polly and I attended the celebration of J.W.Bradley’s 92nd birthday at Frozen Head SP and later in the Fall attended the 50th annual meeting of SOCM at nearby Cumberland Mountain SP. Polly has been very involved in helping to establish the Legacy Fund to honor the mentors and communities that welcomed the SHC into their homes and hearts. We all benefited immensely from our SHC experiences so many years ago. It’s a debt we can never fully repay. Cheers!

Below is a clip of John McArthur from a 2017 panel alongside John Williams, Lark Hayes, and Neil McBride. View  to learn more about his upbringing and work with the Black Lung Association in Jacksboro, Tenn.

Related Content:

On John McArthur’s background

John McArthur elaborates on how his familial background and upbringing set him apart from many others involved with the Black Lung Association (BLA). Raised in Appalachia, he was radicalized while in college at UTC and shifted his studies from forestry… Continued

On the East Tennessee Research Corporation (ETRC) in eastern Kentucky

In supplement to ETRC’s involvement with the Black Lung Association in LaFollette and the Black Lung Clinic in Jacksboro, John Kennedy describes its ongoing activity outside of East Tennessee, too. Namely, he discusses his role setting up clinics in eastern… Continued

John McArthur on Columbus and Ruby McGhee

John McArthur names two of his heroes in the effort to organize the black lung clinic in Jacksboro, Tenn. According to him, Columbus McGhee, a coal miner, and his wife, Ruby, were the lifeblood of the Black Lung Association (BLA)… Continued

Bob Firestone and John Twiggs arrive in Jacksboro

John McArthur tells the story of his and the board’s decision to hire Bob Firestone and John Twiggs, both from the University of Minnesota, as the Jacksboro Clinic’s first two National Health Service Corps physicians. Despite cultural differences, the community… Continued