Night Comes to the Cumberlands: A Biography of a Depressed Area

By Harry M. Caudill | Go to book overview

CHAPTER NINETEEN
The Rape of the Appalachians The 1950s

T HE SAME DECADE that saw the human resources of the plateau sapped and vitiated by Welfarism, idleness and defeat on the one hand and by sustained out-migration on the other, also brought the beginning of a terrible new emasculation of its physical resources. Strip mining, a branch of the industry which had previously been practiced in such flat coalfields as western Kentucky and southern Illinois, invaded the Cumberlands on a vast scale.

For nearly sixty years the greater part of the region's mineral wealth had lain in the iron clutch of absentee corporations. They had prospered and bankrupted and prospered again. But through their triumphs and tragedies, their successes and failures, the corporations had clung to all the old rights, privileges, immunities, powers and interests vested in them by their nineteenth-century land and mineral deeds. These relics from a laissez-faire century were construed to authorize the physical destruction of the land and the abject impoverishment of its inhabitants. With strip mining and its companion, the auger-mining process, the shades of darkness moved close indeed to the Cumberlands.

The courts have written strings of decisions which not only uphold the covenants and privileges enumerated in the ancient deeds and contracts but which, in the opinion of many lawyers, greatly enlarge them as well. We have seen that when the mountaineer's ancestor for the seller is, in most instances, long since dead) sold his land

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