Kentucky Tourism

Caudill, Harry M.

Whitesburg, KY


Night Comes to the Cumberlands;
The Senator from Slaughter County

Harry M. Caudill was a Kentucky lawyer, professor and author whose eloquent description of life in poverty-ridden Appalachia inspired Federal relief efforts beginning in the 1960's,. 

In 1963 Mr. Caudill's first book, Night Comes to the Cumberlands, focused nationwide attention on the plight of Appalachia's residents. President John F. Kennedy appointed a commission to investigate conditions in the region and his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, made Appalachia a keystone of his War on Poverty. 

Mr. Caudill, who was born in the Whitesburg area, was a descendant of the earliest settlers who arrived a century and a half ago to scratch out a living on farms and in coal mines. He went to Whitesburg High School and, after serving in the Army in World War II and being wounded in combat in Italy, graduated from the University of Kentucky with a law degree in 1948. 

He practiced law for nearly three decades and served three terms in the Kentucky House of Representatives, where he was a maverick legislator who fought, largely unsuccessfully, to end the state's many political fiefdoms at the county level. 

A strenuous orator who liked to quote in a sonorous mountain drawl from the Bible, Shakespeare, Tennyson and Dickens, he was principally concerned with improving public education, conserving land and resources and reforming the judiciary. He co-sponsored a 1954 law that set minimum support levels for public schools and imposed a sales tax to pay the cost. 

In 1977 he gave up practicing the law to become Professor of Appalachian Studies at the University of Kentucky. Having no suitable textbook on the region, he compiled his own. With his wife, Anne, as his secretary, he wrote articles that were published in The Atlantic Monthly, Reader's Digest, The Nation and Audubon Magazine, among other journals. 

(from NY Times obituary)