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The Appalachian Volunteers were a government funded community development organization involved in many of the more controversial episodes of the War on Poverty in West Virginia. The organization was founded in 1963 as an offshoot of the Council of the Southern Mountains, headquartered at the time at Berea College, Kentucky. The AVs, as they were known, began as a group of students from Kentucky colleges who volunteered in one-room schools in East Kentucky. When President Johnson’s War on Poverty geared up in 1965, the AVs received funding to expand their efforts.

AV activities in West Virginia began with the 1966 summer project, which involved about 500 college students, more than 150 of whom were assigned to coal camps and rural settlements in southern West Virginia. AV staff, summer volunteers, and members of Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) began organizing community meetings around issues such as inadequate schools, poor roads, and strip mining. Soon corrupt elections and unfair taxation were added to the list, and by 1967 several county antipoverty programs were taken over by grass-roots coalitions organized by the AVs and their allies. Local political leaders protested to the governor and to West Virginia’s representatives in Washington. Funding was soon cut and political restrictions imposed.

However, the AV influence lived on for several years in the Fair Elections, strip mine control, and tax reform movements of the late ’60s and early ’70s, and in the candidacy of Paul Kaufman, a liberal state senator from Kanawha County who ran unsuccessfully for the Democrat nomination for governor in 1968. Perhaps the greatest impact was on the Black Lung and Miners for Democracy movements. Former Appalachian Volunteers helped a disabled miner from Cabin Creek, Arnold Miller, to become president of the United Mine Workers of America in 1972.

Although some moved to Washington with Miller when he took control of the union, several of the ‘‘outside agitator’’ AVs stayed on in West Virginia, working in law, health care, public broadcasting, and business.

This Article was written by Gibbs Kinderman

Last Revised on August 08, 2013


Cite This Article

Kinderman, Gibbs "Appalachian Volunteers." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 08 August 2013. Web. 21 September 2018.

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