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Reformers to Radicals: The Appalachian Volunteers and the War on Poverty

by Thomas Kiffmeyer

Availablepaperback$25.00s 978-0-8131-7647-5
Availablecloth$40.00s 978-0-8131-2509-1
322 pages  Pubdate: 12/14/2018  6 x 9 x 1.0  32 Photographs

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The Appalachian Volunteers formed in the early 1960s, determined to eliminate poverty through education and vocational training and improve schools and homes in the mountainous regions of the southeastern United States. In Reformers to Radicals: The Appalachian Volunteers and the War on Poverty, Thomas Kiffmeyer illustrates how the activists ultimately failed, mainly because they were indecisive about the fundamental nature of their mission. The AVs, many of them college students, were also distracted by causes not directly connected with the war on poverty, such as civil rights and opposition to the Vietnam War. Despite some progress, the organization finally lost the support of the national government, and more important, of the Appalachian people, setbacks from which it never recovered.

Thomas J. Kiffmeyer, associate professor of history at Morehead State University, is the author of numerous reviews and articles.

"This work will do much to fill what I believe is a real vacuum in twentieth-century Appalachian historiography. Tom Kiffmeyer tells a gripping, human story."—Chad Berry, author of Southern Migrants, Northern Exiles

“Thoroughly researched, well-written, and judicious in tone, the enduring contribution of Reformers to Radicals is in delineating the limits of liberal reformism in a region like Central Appalachia where inequality is so entrenched that only a thorough political restructuring will bring about democratic change.”—Ronald L. Lewis, Robbins Chair and Professor Emeritus, West Virginia University

“Kiffmeyer deepens our understanding of Appalachia’s history during the 1960s, when the region was on the front line of the War on Poverty. His succinct, dynamic account of the Appalachian Volunteers highlights the multilayered, powerful challenges facing antipoverty warriors both within and outside the mountains and reveals yet another dimension of the unanticipated consequences of liberal reform during a tumultuous era in American history.”—John Mathew Glenn, Author of Highlander: No Ordinary School

“Reformers to Radicals provides a compelling case study of the political and social tensions that enveloped the United States in the 1960s. Kiffmeyer places AVs’ story into the national narrative of a radical, oppositional consciousness emerging out of the idealism of the civil rights movement and the Great Society.”—Rob Weise, Associate Professor of History, Eastern Kentucky University

“This work will do much to fill what I believe is a real vacuum in twentieth-century Appalachian historiography. Kiffmeyer tells a gripping, human story.”—Chad Berry,Appalachian Heritage

“His succinct, dynamic account of the Appalachian Volunteers highlights the multilayered, powerful challenges facing antipoverty warriors, both within and outside the mountains, and reveals yet another dimension of the unanticipated consequences of liberal reform during a tumultuous era in American history.”—John Matthew Glenn, Appalachian Heritage

“As a detailed overview of a critically important but under-examined chapter in Appalachian history, Reformers to Radicals is a welcome contribution to the scholarship”— Chad Montrie, North Carolina Historical Review

“The treatment of the clash of cultures the War on Poverty brought to the mountains is the strongest aspect of the book…Kiffmeyer does a nice job fitting the story into the context of the sixties.”—William Clayson, Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

"Kiffmeyer blames [the failure of the Appalachian Volunteers] on its paternalistic outsider mentality, which alienated every group the AV worked with, and the power of local elites. Recommended."—Choice

"Reformers to Radicals provides a valuable contribution to Appalachian and American historiography. It is necessary reading for anyone interested in understanding modern Appalachia’s struggle with indigence or the War on Poverty’s inability to provide solid and lasting solutions for such a persistent and pervasive problem."—Jinny Turman-Deal, contributor to West Virginia History: An Open Access Reader

"Reading this book, one is gripped by a sense of tragedy...Well researched and vigorously written, this book provides great insights into why the War on Poverty failed."— Journal of American History

"Both timely and long overdue...Reformers to Radicals is an impressive accomplishment documenting the history of the Appalachian Volunteers."—Appalachian Journal

"Ashmore and Kiffmeyer offer a powerful indictment of the operation of the War on Poverty on the ground, contribute to an understanding of public policy issues, and, in Ashmore’s case, add to our knowledge of the civil rights movement after its glory years." —American Historical Review

"[Kiffmeyer] places the federally funded Appalachian Volunteers, drawn from the ranks of college students, at the center of his story. . . . [he] offers a powerful indictment of the operation of the War on Poverty on the ground."—American Historical Review

"Reformers to Radicals address the many factors that led to the demise of the Appalachian Volunteers in 1970, the most important being the massive repression by local, state, and national political leaders."—Journal of Southern History

"This well reasoned and meticulously documented work of scholarship should prove useful to southern historians, students of the Great Society era, and anyone interested in the dynamics of social reform movements."—The Southeastern Librarian

Winner of the 2010 Kentucky Archives Month Certificate of Merit for Writing or Other Production.