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Carl D. Perkins: Appalachia’s Voice in Washington

April 20, 2011 in 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Economic history, Political history

Carl Dewey Perkins served the people of eastern Kentucky as their 7th Congressional District U.S Congressman from 1949 until his death on August 3, 1984 and during those 36 years the Knott County Democrat became one of the most powerful voices in Congress. Born in Hindman, Kentucky on October 15, 1912, Perkins attended local schools and later would go on to earn his law degree and hold several local and state political offices, but it was his time in Washington D.C and his service to the people of his native eastern Kentucky and Appalachia that he will be forever best known for.

Described as a ‘iron horse” for the people of Appalachia it did not take Perkins long to gain national recognition. After taking office as Kentucky’s 7th District Congressman on January 3, 1949, Perkins became an early supporter of civil rights by backing President Harry Truman’s attempt to establish a permanent Fair Employment Practices Commission (FPEC) in 1950. A permanent FEPC called for anti-lynching legislation and the abolishment of the Poll Tax among others. The bill was passed by the U.S House but the U.S Senate’s Southern Democrats “filibustered” the bill and it failed in the U.S Senate. Over the next decade Perkins continued to support the call for civil rights in America and he was one of only eleven Southern Democrats to support and vote for the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Also in 1964 Congressman Perkins became a central part of the Lyndon Johnson Administration’s War on Poverty in the U.S Congress. One of those bills was the creation of the U.S Job Corps under the Economic Opportunity Act, the Job Corps provides a free education and training program that helps the youth of America learn a career, earn their high school diploma/ GED, and find a good paying job once completed. Since 1964, Job Corps has served over 2 million young people and currently serves around 60,000 youths throughout the U.S each year. Perkins’ legacy while in Washington would have to be his relentless work for the under-privileged in America, especially eastern Kentucky and Appalachia. He became chairman of the U.S House’s Committee on Education and Labor in 1967 and held that position until his death in 1984. During that time he sponsored and backed many of the modern public schools federal legislation like the free school lunch program and vocational education which is currently known as the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act of 2006. The federal student loan program or better known as the Perkins Loan also honors his name and has given the opportunity for thousands of Americans to attend college in the U.S. Also Perkins was seen as a strong advocate of the Head Start program in America.

Another lasting legacy that Perkins created was perhaps felt most by the people he served for  those 36 in Congress and that was he never forgot where he came from or who he worked for. He made frequent trips from Washington to the area and knew many of his constitutes by their first name. He stood up for his mountain people and the oppressed in America and never quit until he was satisfied that everyone was getting a fair shake no matter their economic status or background. Congressman Perkins has been decreased for nearly 30 years now, but the impact he made in America, especially in Appalachia will live on for generations to come. Carl D. Perkins’ personal and political papers are stored in the Archives section of the library at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, KY.

Works Cited

Photo Courtesy of WSGS Radio Station, Hazard, Kentucky

Alice A. Dunnigan – Writing her way to the White House

December 9, 2010 in 1960s-1970s

Alice Dunnigan, Kentucky journalist at the White House

Alice Dunnigan (1906 - 1983) from Russellville, KY

Throughout history in order to make change possible, one person has historically sparked that change. Alice A. Dunnigan was a woman from Kentucky who did just that, make change in the journalism industry. Alice A. Dunnigan became the first African American to receive White House credentials and was reporting on the highest levels of government business. Before she was able to accomplish such amazing things in her journalism career, she was forced to live through racial tensions and segregation.

Born in Russellville, Kentucky in 1906, Alice A. Dunnigan attended the local segregated high school. After graduation she went on to get a degree from Kentucky State University, a historically black college. After graduating from Kentucky State University she became a teacher in Todd County Public schools for eighteen years. During her teaching career she was very active in publishing reports in the local newspapers about issue of civil rights and equality for both gender and race. Her reporting scored her a job reporting on the campaign for President Truman. After reporting for his campaign she got a job on the Committee on Equal Opportunity under President Kennedy and President Johnson. She was reporting for the highest level of government as possible and was nationally recognized for her reporting.

Alice A. Dunnigan was a very influential woman in the journalism field. She worked for the Associated Negro Press,  the first African American female to have a Capitol press pass and the first African American elected to the Women’s National Press Club..  She opened the door to all African American men and women in the United States who wanted to be writers on a national or state level. She is a great example of someone who used her abilities to spread her message of equality for all too as many different people as possible.

Dunnigan, Alice Allison, A Black Woman’s Experience: From Schoolhouse to White House (Dorrence, 1974).
“Milestones in Journalism Diversity,” NewsWatch, – dunnigan.html (June 17, 2003).
“Women in Kentucky,”
“Historical Marker”

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