The story of Eastern Kentucky’s continued struggles 50 years after a country lawyer focused the nation on its problems
In 1963, Harry Caudill of Whitesburg published Night Comes to the Cumberlands: A Biography of a Depressed Area, which shone a spotlight on the plundering of the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. The book forever changed Appalachia. On the eve of the book’s 50th anniversary, the Lexington Herald-Leader launched a yearlong look at the region’s struggles since Night was published.
Part 1 of 50 Years of Night, published in December 2012, examines the complicated life of Harry Caudill, a country lawyer who focused the world on the problems of Appalachia. Part 2, published in June and July 2013, examines how the coal industry has altered the land, people and economy of Eastern Kentucky in the past 50 years. Part 3, published in November and December 2013, explores the region’s battles with poverty, drug abuse and a lack of education. An epilogue was published on April 27, 2014.
Before the series was completed, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers launched an effort to devise a better future for Eastern Kentucky called Shaping Our Appalachian Future, or SOAR. In January 2014, President Barack Obama announced eight Appalachian Kentucky counties had been designated as one of the initial federal Promise Zones, giving them priority status in competing for money for housing, education, public safety and other needs. Fifty Years of Night was cited prominently in the region’s request for aid from the Obama administration.
The state also has initiated efforts to extend and widen the Mountain Parkway, the transportation backbone of Eastern Kentucky, and construct a high-speed Internet network in the region.