Harlan County Round-up: ‘Success Is What You Make Of It’

Published 12:18 pm Friday, February 25, 2022

A round-up of all things Harlan County…
Zeke Williams called the other day to talk to me about burial — why six feet deep and three feet across or so.

Born and raised in Harlan County, Williams has traveled all over the world — served in the Army I think.
Anyway, Williams said it has something to do with the Book of Numbers from the Bible, somehow everything
is coded.

Though I’m educated, I’m not always the sharpest knife in the drawer so I can’t explain what he was saying as best as I wish I could.

However, I did understand what Williams said about how there is nothing new under the sun — that I agree with. And Williams said folks
in Appalachia are special, but sometimes we get treated badly, judged too by folks who should know better. I agree, whole heartedly.

On that note, pending the weather which has been squirrely of late as Old Man Winter decides whether he likes rain or snow better, I’m going to turn off the GPS and tour the county again. Can’t say where I’ll end up, but I’ll know it when I see it. Perhaps that’s an older 2-story coal camp house that’s for sale or rent that is way off the beaten path, maybe near a creek. Perhaps I’ll find a local diner that serves a burger and fries.

In other news, I take a lot of joy publishing positive stories about the academic teams competing from Harlan’s various schools for the Governor’s Cup. Kids should be proud. Takes a lot of hard work and dedication to compete.

Sometimes when I thumb through the Bible, I let the pages tell me where to read, what passage of Scripture. Sometimes it’s reassuring to think that as I am guided to what I read, I’m not alone.

Same sort of thing happened the other day when I was going through an old edition of the Harlan Enterprise, circa 1995. Not sure I was drawn to these stories, but first I saw a black and white photo of Cecil Roberts, who was then the international vice president of the United Mine Workers of America.

During a prominent meeting, Roberts gave the keynote speech in March about “coalfield labor relations, where we are today and where we need to go,” the story said.

Little did anyone know that roughly nine months later in December of 1995 that Roberts would become UMWA president after Richard Trumka resigned the presidency of UMWA on December 22, 1995, after being elected secretary-treasurer of the
AFL–CIO.

Many many years later when I was working as a reporter in rural West Virginia, I remember meeting Roberts and hearing him speak at various events when he was, still is, president. Great speaker.

Harlan Enterprise published a lot of photos and stories about the community over the years. Look at that — Charlotte Nolan, a teacher at the Harlan Junior High, earned national recognition in the late 1950s for her portrayal of Al Capp’s cartoon character Mammy Yokum in the musical Li’l Abner. Nolan performed in various theater productions including “Count Your Blessings” with Ernest Borgnine, who some folks may remember from the Dirty Dozen or McHale’s Navy.

“Who could’ve dreamed that a little baby girl born in an elevator at Harlan Hospital and who grew to be 4-feet 10-inches tall could have soared to such heights,” the story said.

When Nolan returned home after her mother Bertha died, she did a lot of things for her community too including teaching drama at Harlan High School.

I like this quote from Nolan — “A career in the theatre is so unpredictable. It’s lonely. There was a house to be lived in. My life changed. I decided to remain in Harlan and use my talent in my own back yard.”

And that’s not all. Apparently, Nolan worked for the Harlan Enterprise for a time when her Uncle Kyle Whitehead was editor for 25 years. And look at that — Whitehead won a couple of Pulitzer Prizes as an Associated Press reporter.

Story said, “Kyle, in his newspaper career, never did leave his native mountains, and never did gain
much fame outside the area. But he was, nonetheless, a craftsman with words. He was a reader’s newspaperman and a newspaper newspaperman, and that is as good as you can get in this business.

He was also a good human being… I haven’t talked to anybody yet who didn’t like Kyle Whitehead.” Now that is inspiring.

Not sure what guided me to these passages in a story that probably hasn’t been read since March of 1995, but it makes you think. Harlan County, many places in these mountains, produce top quality folks who can conquer the world. Recent academic teams’ success testifies to our intelligence, drive.

When folks say you have to go to the big city to achieve this or that, really, success is what you make of it.

Lastly, anyone with news tips, gossip, knows a bit about local history and maybe who has leads on houses for rent/sale or who just want to talk can reach out to me at 252-302-1288 or at miles.layton@winchestersun.com