Community Efforts

This picture shows the hands of Mabel Kiser, founder of the Millstone Sewing Center. She founded this center after her county, Letcher County, was featured in the famous documentary about poverty in Appalachia, Christmas in Appalachia. Following the documentary, the county was flooded with donations of leftover clothes and cloth from all around the nation. While the gesture was appreciated, much of the cloth was useless as it was given, whether it was undersized, oversized, ruined, ripped, or otherwise. In order to make use of the donations, Kiser founded the Millstone Sewing Center to repurpose and salvage the massive cloth reserve, making it an efficient anti-poverty program. It was effective in many ways, including employment opportunities, repurposing seemingly useless resources, and clothing the local population. By putting Kiser’s hands in center-frame, this photo focuses on the role of her labor in the program. Her skill in sewing was a prerequisite for her to make this change, but for her to found the sewing center she was also in touch with and willing to work with her community’s needs. These are all hallmarks of effective anti-poverty programs and highlights something broad, overreaching government anti-poverty programs often lack: being in touch with the changing needs of the communities they service. This image posits that the hands of the people being helped must be involved in the efforts to effect change.

Although the Millstone Sewing Center is greatly illustrative of the ways that local-based community enrichment efforts can be more responsive to pressing needs, it certainly is not alone. Working towards different goals, the Marrowbone Folk School--although not a school in the tradition K-12 sense--promoted the importance of knowledge and active involvement in successful social movements. Serving as a community center interested in preserving Appalachian culture and emphasizing experience over formal education, Jake and Edith Easterling recognized the need to cultivate community action. Another instrumental community effort, and perhaps most relevant to this collection, is The Mountain Eagle. Based in Whitesburg, Kentucky, The Mountain Eagle was founded in 1906. Initially being a roughly normal local newspaper, this changed after Tom and Pat Gish took over the publication in 1956. Following the change in leadership, The Mountain Eagle began to be more concerned with socioeconomic and political issues. This is where Phil Primack reported and took photographs for, as well as other noted Appalachian journalists such as Mike Clark. The publication's new mission was aptly captured by its motto, "It Screams!"  Even through legal threats and financial pressure from the hegemonic coal industry, The Mountain Eagle stays to this day committed to reporting the truth for Appalachians. Outside of political journalism, the paper also holds editorial columns where citizens can write in and get published. Unlike many large federal programs, the community's needs are always foregrounded in these local enrichment efforts.

Life
Community Efforts