Petros, TN

1973mapPetros is a small community (population 1,400) in the northeast portion of Morgan County. At one time a major coal mining community with several stores and a bank, Petros is now crippled by the decline of the deep coal mining industry. In 1890, Tennessee built a state prison in Petros, Brushy State Penitentiary, which housed James Earl Ray, Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassin, and up until mid-1972 employed 180 men, 40 of whom lived in Petros. Because of an attempt to form a guard’s union, the Govern0r [sic] closed the prison permanently, again adding to the economic difficulties. It is now a distillery. Petros might also lose its Post Office and certainly will suffer a decline in population. But if the people leave, it is not because they want to. They will not be happy away from their families, the mountains, and their heritage.

Petros also suffers politically with the county, partly because of geography. It is on the other side of the mountain from Wartburg, the county seat. Wartburg has been designated a growth area, and because of this designation, State and Federal funds are concentrated there.

See the 1972 SHC Annual Report for more information.


Related People:

J. Thomas “Tom” John

I am a bit late in getting my bio in, best done in the earlier stages of pending dotage. I am originally from Laurinburg, N.C., a small farming and, then, textile community in the eastern part of the state. I… Continued

Richard Davidson

Richard Davidson was born in West Palm Beach, Fla. in 1947. He attended Vanderbilt undergraduate and medical schools, and did a residency in internal medicine there as well. During the summer of his second year in medical school (1970) he… Continued

Randy Hodges

Randy graduated Vanderbilt with a degree in civil engineering in 1975. Randy first worked with the SHC helping to construct the Petros Health Clinic in 1973. He served as SHC co-director from 1973-1974 and as a community worker in Jacksboro,… Continued

Irwin Venick

Contributed by Irwin Venick, May 2016 I arrived in Nashville, Tenn. on a hot, humid day in August 1971 not really knowing what to expect. One thing for sure was that I was not in Kansas (meaning for me, New… Continued

Welmoet Spreij

Contributed by Welmoet Spreij, Amsterdam, 2017. I came to Nashville as a Dutch exchange-student in the fall of 1969 and took some classes at Vanderbilt University. While attending a course in philosophy, I came to know John Davis, Dick Burr,… Continued

J.W. Bradley

Jacob “J.W.” Bradley was born on 29 June 1930 and raised in Petros, Tenn., a small Appalachian coalfield community in the Cumberland Mountains. J.W. married Emma “Kate” Hobbs in 1951. As an adult, J.W. worked several jobs. At eighteen he… Continued
Bill Dow in Smithville ,Tenn., 1970

Bill Dow

Bill Dow co-founded the Student Health Coalition while in medical school at Vanderbilt University, in 1969. His larger-than-life role in the SHC origin story and beyond warrants special telling, which we attempt in the essay that follows. Contributed by Margaret… Continued

Janie Hiserote

    Related Content: Continued

Kate Bradley

Emma Ruth “Kate” Hobbs Bradley was born 13 October 1932 in Petros, Tenn., a small Appalachian coalfield community in the Cumberland Mountains. Kate was the sixth of seven surviving children in her family. Her father was a coalminer. Kate married… Continued

Related Stories:

Formation of Mountain Peoples Health Council (MPHC)

Kate and J.W. Bradley ponder who first suggested Petros, Stoney Fork, and Norma band together to form the Mountain Peoples Health Council (MPHC), why, and how it was made possible–in large part thanks to Rick Davidson’s role as the first… Continued

Bob Hartmann on his follow-up visits with the Bradleys in Petros, Tenn.

Bob Hartmann discusses the informal nature of community organizing characteristic of the Coalition’s work, both prior to and following summer health fairs. He shares the story of his and others’ regular visits back to communities during the academic year, highlighting… Continued

On the joy and impact of living with local families in East Tennessee

Rosie Hammond shares the highlight of her SHC experience: living with and getting to know local families. She names several from her time in Briceville, White Oak, Petros, Stoney Fork, and Rose Creek, Tenn., including (but not limited to) the… Continued

On closing the Petros Clinic

Kate and J.W. Bradley share about their decision to close the Petros Clinic amidst ongoing, relentless threats from Dr. Chester Caster and the community. Follow this link for access to the full-length interview. Recorded October 2017 in Wartburg, Tenn. Continued

Post-health fair formation of community councils and the origins of MPHC in Tennessee

As part of the Student Health Coalition Archive Project, Caryl Carpenter and Rick Davidson meet with James Lovett, CEO of Mountain People’s Health Councils, Inc. Their primary objective is to collect a firsthand account from Lovett and in so doing,… Continued

On the Petros Clinic’s connection to Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary

Kate Bradley briefly discusses the Petros Clinic’s connection to Brushy Mountain Prison and recalls her memory of James Earl Ray’s escape. Follow this link for access to the full-length interview. Recorded October 2017 in Wartburg, Tenn. Continued

Betty Anderson’s introduction to SOCM

Betty Anderson shares how she first became involved with Save Our Cumberland Mountains (SOCM) and the Student Health Coalition. Included in her account is a story about how she and others responded to opposition of the rural health clinics in… Continued

Key players in the health fair and early days of the clinic in Petros, Tenn.

Caryl Carpenter, Rick Davidson, and Irwin Venick meet with Kate and J.W. Bradley to discuss the Petros health fair and community clinic. They list several of the early players involved with both, including Wanda and Gary Lang, Bob Hartmann, John… Continued

On the Petros Health Council’s response to altercation with Dr. Chester Caster

Kate Bradley discusses the local Petros Health Council’s response to an altercation with the clinic’s doctor, Chester Caster. He tirelessly incited clinic opposition among community members and rallied to take over, but Kate’s determination to protect the clinic was stalwart.… Continued

Notes from the road: Mountain People’s Health Councils

[Story contributed by Caryl Carpenter] On October 23rd, 2017, a doctor, a lawyer, an archivist, and an old lady started out to make history, or more accurately, to record history – the history of Mountain People’s Health Councils (MPHC) in… Continued

Highlights from J.W. Bradley’s collection of papers

Biff Hollingsworth, archivist at UNC’s Wilson Special Collections Library’s Southern Historical Collection, comes across some highlights from J.W. Bradley‘s recently donated collection of papers. The first is a newspaper clipping of J.W., president of Save Our Cumberland Mountains (SOCM), with… Continued

Decline of coal camp healthcare and subsequent basis of need for reform

Charles “Boomer” Winfrey and Maureen O’Connell discuss the local healthcare setting upon Save Our Cumberland Mountain’s (SOCM) and the Student Health Coalition’s (SHC) early stages of community organizing in East Tennessee. Maureen details several local factors which established a major… Continued

Overcoming adversity from Morgan County

Kate and J.W. Bradley discuss the Morgan County Health Council, from its formation around the same time as the Coalition’s health fair in Petros, Tenn. to the challenges Morgan County officials created for the clinic. These hurdles were in no… Continued

Janie Hiserote on Family Practice

Janie Hiserote talks about being a nurse practitioner providing family and community care in the communities of Petros and Coalfield, Tennessee. She shares a touching story about attending to a dying man in the middle of the night and the… Continued

On the Bradley’s motivation to organize a community clinic in Petros, Tenn.

Kate Bradley frames the initiative to organize a local health council and community clinic as a direct response to the Petros health fair’s preliminary identification of needs. She details early fundraising efforts, including Pat Kalmans’ key role in securing grant… Continued

“I will always be grateful for the gifts that the work and the people of those summers gave to me.”

[Story contributed by Angela Carroll Healy, M.D.] Dear All, Seeing the videos and reading the memories of other Coalitioners has made me want to share what working with the Student Health Coalition (SHC) meant to me. I was a Brooklyn… Continued

Caryl Carpenter discusses the challenges with the structure of Mountain People’s Health Councils

Caryl Carpenter, former administrator of the Mountain People’s Health Councils (MPHC) of East Tennessee, talks about challenges in the structure of MPHC, which was founded in 1974 as a coalition of three rural health clinics in Norma (Scott County), Petros… Continued

More on local opposition to the Petros Clinic

Kate Bradley expands on the issues she explains are often characteristic of small, rural communities and how such things as ignorance and jealousy impeded their efforts to build a community clinic in Petros, Tenn. She describes a few specific examples… Continued

Caryl Carpenter talks about her experiences with Mountain People’s Health Councils

Caryl Carpenter, former administrator of the Mountain People’s Health Councils (MPHC) of East Tennessee, talks about her experiences with MPHC, which was founded in 1974 as a coalition of three rural health clinics in Norma (Scott County), Petros (Morgan County)… Continued

“We had to work with one hand and fight with the other”

Kate Bradley narrates the process by which Mountain Peoples Health Council (MPHC) acquired land to build the Petros Clinic. She describes the stiff political atmosphere in Nashville, where she went to plead her case before a judge, and explains why… Continued

Kate Bradley on a problematic provider’s attempt to take over the clinic in Petros

Kate Bradley describes the internal conflict that arose with the doctor, Chester Caster, who came to Petros after Rick Davidson. He rallied for clinic opposition among community members and made irate threats against her in what was a futile (albeit… Continued

Perry Steele on the summer of 1972

[Story contributed by Perry Steele, 15 May 2017]  I was finishing my sophomore year at Vanderbilt. Nixon hadn’t drafted me. For some reason Professor Scott suggested I could be a community organizer. Having no other plans for the summer, I… Continued

On the sense of community

Kaye Bultemeier, Janie Hiserote, and Chuck Darling reflect on the sense of community among residents of Petros, Stoney Fork, and Norma, Tennessee, and make note of changes in the region over time. Kaye says, “You could be a little bit… Continued

The Bradleys move to Wartburg, Tenn.

Caryl Carpenter describes Kate Bradley’s fierce commitment to making Petros a better place, naming several other community initiatives beyond the clinic. Kate, however, shares that she feels they failed and explains their decision to leave for Wartburg, Tenn. in 1993.… Continued

“Community knows best”

Margaret Ecker facilitates a discussion among Irwin Venick, Bob Hartmann, and Joe Little about the philosophies and guiding principles of the SHC. All agree a central facet of the Coalition’s approach was a collective understanding of the local community’s role… Continued

Related Resources/Links:

Article: “Higher Appalachia Coal Taxes Asked,” from the New York Times

Stuart, Reginald. “Higher Appalachia Taxes Asked.” New York Times, June 22, 1974. Read article online. Continued

Interview with Kate Bradley and J.W. Bradley by Evangeline Mee, 11 August 2012, Southern Oral History Program, UNC Chapel Hill

This interview with J.W. Bradley and Kate Bradley is a follow up to interview U-0803. J.W. Bradley was born in Petros, Tenn., a coalfield community in the Cumberlands. He served as deputy sheriff in Petros. He was one of the… Continued

Interview with Kate Bradley and J.W. Bradley by Evangeline Mee, 29 May 2012, Southern Oral History Program, UNC Chapel Hill

Topics discussed in this interview with Kate Bradley and J.W. Bradley include: birth in Petros, Tenn.; life history overview; coal mining father; history of Save Our Cumberland Mountains (SOCM); women’s role in SOCM; relationship of Vanderbilt University medical students; Student… Continued

Article: “Health Care for those off the beaten path,” from the Tennessee Valley Authority

Kollar, Robert. “Health care for those off the beaten path.” Tennessee Valley Authority, post-1975. View PDF.  More on the Tennessee Valley Authority: Continued

Richard Davidson Photograph Collection, Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill

Richard Davidson (1947-), a medical physician and educator, was among the founding participants of the Vanderbilt Student Health Coalition at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. (1970-1971) and the Mountain People’s Health Council in eastern Tennesee (1975-1976). The Student Health Coalition… Continued