- poverty in the appalachian mountains - 12/17/13

In today's selection -- from Mud Creek Medicine by Kiran Bhatraju. Tucked into a corner of America that is equal parts stunning beauty and crippling poverty lies Appalachia. There, eighty-six year old Eula Hall, born into a destitute family in Greasy Creek, Kentucky, found herself -- through sheer determination and will -- at the center of a century-long struggle to lift up that forgotten part of America. Appalachia is a place where some scratch out a living in the coal industry and others live completely "off the grid," with no utilities and almost no sign of what we would consider civilization. In 1973, Hall raised $1400 and opened the doors to The Mud Creek Clinic in Mud Creek, Kentucky for the uninsured and the underinsured -- and patients come there from as far away as Tennessee, West Virginia, and Ohio. She rose to prominence in the East Kentucky Worker's Rights Organization, created the Mud Creek Water District and served as President of the Kentucky Black Lung Association:

"Appalachia has long played an iconic role in America, alternating between a native frontier and, at times, a redoubt of redneck romanticism. Today, far from the bustle of city life and the quiet rudeness of suburbia, these mountains enclose a part of America often ignored, and at times forgotten. Life here is slow, always has been.

"Standing for some 225 million years and stretching from Maine to Alabama, these mountains have been a refuge for those worn by modernity, a timeless and enduring testament to the nation's humble beginnings. Appalachians gave the country its first indigenous music and art, Appalachian woodsmen gave the nation timber to build its bustling cities and towns, and Appalachian coal miners trudged and labored to keep the lights on.

"Set in a landscape of staggering beauty, the rolling mountains of the Cumberland Plateau enclose hamlets of gritty men and resilient women. The land, like its people, is bucolic, thoroughly rustic, and worn. These mountains have bred myth and legend, and have been filled with outcast immigrants, war heroes, isolated backwoodsmen, hardworking miners, fast-moving moonshiners, religious warriors, musicians, and the occasional statesman -- a rugged cast for sure. Eastern Kentucky is home to some of America's most genuine people -- a place where playing the church piano loud is about as important as playing it right. Where people never wanted or asked for more than what God gave them. A place where life was tortured, but caring enough to make Eula Hall a woman of endless compassion.

Eula Hall in her Mud Creek Clinic Office (2009)

"Whether it is the trailblazing, family feuds, coal miners' strife, moonshinin', or just folksy charm, the personal stories of individuals found in the hills of Appalachia often do rise to the heights of drama and intrigue, and reach to the depths of the American experience. Eula Hall's life is no exception. Eula's story is of a woman of remarkable strength, shaped by her community above all else. It is a story that should appeal to those with no connection to Appalachia, and to those who simply want to leave the world a better place than they found it. From a rugged mountain youth to hired girl to organizer, health care entrepreneur, and iconoclast, Eula's story echoes the story of America in the twentieth century, in all her rage and glory. She is the quintessential Appalachian-American poverty warrior combined with bucolic self-sufficiency, and she represents a dual ethos of community and individualism that is unique to the mountains.

"Eula, like so many quiet civic heroes, didn't do it for fame because, in her words, 'Fame ain't worth a damn'; didn't do it for accolades because 'We need action, not awards'; and sure as hell didn't do it for money because she's 'been rich without money since birth.' She fought on, and risked her life at times, as the sign outside the clinic reads: 'For the People.' "


Kiran Bhatraju


Mud Creek Medicine: The Life of Eula Hall and the Fight for Appalachia


Butler Books


Copyright 2013 by Kiran Bhatraju


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