Harlan County Round-up: James and Martha Blair reach out

Published 3:23 pm Tuesday, January 18, 2022

A round-up of all things Harlan County…

James Blair and his bride Martha of Harlan called the other day.

Couple has a compelling story that deserves ink on these pages.

Before Blair retired, he was a longtime pastor at Sunny Acres First Christian Church of God. He and Martha have been married 64 years and have seen much during their time spent living in Harlan County. I’d have a proper picture of them, but their house burned down a couple years back; photo albums of memories destroyed.

Anyway, John and Martha had two children and they are grandparents to three grandchildren and two great grandchildren — I think that’s the right amount of grandkids.  When I asked about the people of Harlan, she had this to say.

“What I like best — the people mostly because they can accept you for who you are, love you for you,” she said. “Sure, they can get mad and even fight from time to time, but they are pretty good about forgiving you too.”

Sunday afternoon, the couple shared their personal history so as best to paint a positive portrait of how the human spirit endures and can overcome all obstacles through grit, determination and a helping hand from God. Because I want to do Blair’s story justice, this is the first of a two-part story.

We’ll start at the beginning — a moment in time that may have started the ball rolling.

Blair, now 88-years-old, said he remembers growing up very, very poor. Early memory that he shared was when he was 9 or 10 years old, he stole a hatchet from a store and sold it for a quarter; used the money to feed his siblings.

Later, Blair was taken to jail where he and younger siblings John and Verda, even their mother, who could not read nor write. Blair said the county wanted his mother to give up custody of her children so they could be sent to an orphanage. Father was absent.

Blair said the family stayed in the jail for about a year since there was to public housing nor places to stay in those days.

Eventually, the county sent Blair and his siblings to an orphanage near Louisville. Blair said because he and his siblings were able to stay together, they remained close as a family.

Blair was able to enroll in Berea College, which had a residential high school program back then. He was able to earn his high school diploma and a college degree from the school. And that’s where he met Martha — both of them love folk dancing.

Blair credits Berea’s education with changing his life. He spent time in the US Army — volunteered. Eventually, Blair would earn a master’s degree from East Kentucky University. Martha was trained as a nurse.

John and Martha talked about the poverty in Appalachia, then and as now, a tough thing to bear; not everyone able to rise above. Believe me, I understand. More about Blair’s story will be in next week’s Harlan Enterprise.

In other news, Circuit Court Judge Kent Hendrickson called the house the other day too. Good guy, much respect.
Found this quote from Hendrickson somewhere on the internet — quote that applies to Hendrickson’s approach to the law.

“Judges do not ‘dispense’ justice—they apply the law, tempered with compassion when warranted, on the necessary assumption that justice will be the natural and probable result. Judges who believe they are the ‘dispensers’ of justice, who believe they are the arbiters of what is ‘right,’ are dangerous.”
Very wise words.

Lastly, anyone with news tips can call me directly at my personal cell number (252-302-1288) or via email at miles.layton@winchestersun.com

And yes, I have a Harlan email address, I just forgot the password; I’ll deal with that another day.

Maybe even try my facebook page, be it the Harlan Enterprise or my own page. Pastor William Michael Clem sends me notes from time too via Facebook. Thx

Miles Layton is editor of the Harlan Enterprise.