Interview with William F. Best, April 2, 1991

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:01 - Involvement with Project Torchlight

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Partial Transcript: This is an oral history interview with Bill Best for the University of Kentucky War on Poverty Oral History Project.

Segment Synopsis: Best talks about getting involved in Project Torchlight, mentioning that initially he wanted to be a teacher but was discouraged from pursuing teaching. He also talks about pursuing a doctorate degree in Appalachian Studies.

Keywords: Appalachian Studies; Doctorate degree; Educational departments; Importance of identity; Project Torchlight; Student teaching; Unconventional approaches; Upward Bound program

Subjects: Berea (Ky.); Berea College

00:09:47 - Experiences with and impressions of Appalachian Volunteers

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Partial Transcript: But before I went up there was when I had my first encounters with the, um, Appalachian Volunteers...

Segment Synopsis: Best talks about his reaction to Jack Weller's book, "Yesterday's People". He goes on to talk about his experiences giving a talk on Project Torchlight at Union College. He also talks about his impressions of the Appalachian Volunteers.

Keywords: "Yesterday's People"; Appalachian Volunteers (AVs); Impressions; Jack Weller; Reactions

Subjects: Social reformers--Appalachian Region

00:18:49 - Council of the Southern Mountains and Appalachian Studies conferences

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Partial Transcript: After that--1966, I was a little bit--that episode at Union College in 1966 I was a little bit gun shy...

Segment Synopsis: Best talks about his experiences at two Council of the Southern Mountain conferences. The first at Fontana Village in 1969. The second conference was at Lake Junaluska in 1970. He talks about trying to establish an Appalachian Studies Conference and the tension within the CSM's education commission.

Keywords: Activists; Appalachian Studies Conference; CSM; Changes; Conferences; Confrontation; Fontana Village; George Brosi; Impressions; Lake Junaluska; Voting strategies

Subjects: Social reformers--Appalachian Region

00:34:20 - More on Project Torchlight

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Partial Transcript: Tell me more about the, the Project Torchlight. Was that an OEO program?

Segment Synopsis: Best talks about the funding and original backing of Project Torchlight. He talks about transitioning to Upward Bound and mentions leaving the organization. He also talks about the outcomes for some of the programs' earlier participants.

Keywords: Confrontations; Impact; Kentucky River Foothills; OEO; Outcomes; Participants; Politics; Summer programs

Subjects: Berea College; Vietnam War, 1961-1975

00:40:08 - Awareness of and involvement in War on Poverty

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Partial Transcript: When Johnson--(coughs)--declared his War on Poverty [Best coughs] and you know he wen--came down to Inez...

Segment Synopsis: Best talks about his awareness of the poverty in Appalachia prior to the War on Poverty and after. He discusses his reaction to the focus of the War on Poverty, and the shortcomings of the movement.

Keywords: Appalachian Regional Commission; Attention; Awareness; Drop-outs; Project Torchlight; Reactions; Students; War on Poverty

Subjects: Appalachians (People)--Kentucky--Social conditions; Poverty--Appalachian Region

00:46:06 - Growing up / media attention on poverty

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Partial Transcript: You said, you didn't think of yourself as being poor in 1964.

Segment Synopsis: Best talks about his background, mentioning that he didn't consider himself to be poor. He also shares his feelings on the attention outsiders showed the region.

Keywords: Attention; Cultural heritage; Exploitation; Family background; Financial situations; Media; Personal experience; Personal identity; Poverty

Subjects: Appalachians (People)--Social conditions.; Poverty--Appalachian Region

00:55:00 - Differences between himself and the Appalachian Volunteers

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Partial Transcript: What were the, uh, [Best coughs] first overt signs, you think, of the War on Poverty?

Segment Synopsis: Best talks about how his views on the War on Poverty were different from that of the Appalachian Volunteers. He also talks about the class and cultural divide between the volunteers and the Appalachian locals.

Keywords: Activists; Appalachian Volunteers; Backgrounds; Cultural differences; Different ideologies; Middle class guilt; Motivations; Mountain people; Point of view; Relations

Subjects: Appalachians (People); Social reformers--Appalachian Region

01:03:47 - Perceptions of Council of the Southern Mountains leaders

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Partial Transcript: Wha--what was the Council like in those, in those early years, you know, when Perley Ayer was still around? And what were they trying to do?

Segment Synopsis: Best gives his impressions of different leaders of the Council of the Southern Mountains, including Perley Ayer and Milton Ogle.

Keywords: Council of the Southern Mountains (CSM); Loyal Jones; Milton Ogle; Motivations; Perceptions; Perley Ayer; Project Torchlight graduation speakers

Subjects: Social reformers--Appalachian Region

01:08:06 - Appalachian Volunteer projects' shortcomings

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Partial Transcript: What about those early AV projects? The school winterization? How effective were they?

Segment Synopsis: Best discusses what he thinks were the shortcomings of the Appalachian Volunteers' early projects in Appalachia. He also mentions how Christian missionaries would come to proselytize his family.

Keywords: Appalachian Volunteers (AVs); Christian missionaries; Council of the Southern Mountains (CSM); Lack of understanding; Misguided efforts; School renovations; Shortcomings

Subjects: Appalachian Region--Religion; Appalachians (People)--Social conditions.; Jackson County (Ky.)

01:15:05 - Community Action Programs

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Partial Transcript: What about the--do you know anything about the Community Action Programs that were instituted...

Segment Synopsis: Best talks about the success and failures of Community Action Programs. He shares his opinion that the programs are good when the leadership is good, and specifically mentions a man named Thruston Frye.

Keywords: Community Action Programs; Kentucky River Foothills; Leadership; Thruston Frye; Upward Bound

Subjects: Social reformers--Appalachian Region

01:21:28 - Approaches to working in the community

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Partial Transcript: Are you familiar with the, the AV and the Council split? When the AVs left?

Segment Synopsis: Best discusses the difficulties he had running the Students for Appalachia and the confrontational approach some activists took. He talks about not confronting the power structure directly but instead being subversive in order to create change but also protect the people he was working with.

Keywords: Appalachian Volunteers (AVs); Approaches; Community; Confrontations; Empowerment; Political change; Students for Appalachia; Torchlight Project; Upward Bound

Subjects: Berea College; Elliot County (Ky.)

01:30:06 - Renting out his second house / Milton Ogle

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Partial Transcript: And I've got a neighbor--you came up this way, the house that you passed just before you got here...

Segment Synopsis: Best talks about renting out a house he owns and how it helps the individual or family that rents the house by providing low rent and other assistance. He also talks about Milton Ogle.

Keywords: Motivations

Subjects: Ogle, Milton; Social reformers--Appalachian Region

01:35:28 - Shortcomings of Appalachian Volunteers

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Partial Transcript: Wha, what do you think the impact was when the AVs--after the split from the Council...

Segment Synopsis: Best discusses what he considers to be the problem with the Appalachian Volunteers which eventually led to their demise. He also talks about how the AVs impacted other reform movements in the region.

Keywords: "Yesterday's People"; Activists; Alienation; Appalachian Volunteers (AVs); Approaches; Homegrown; Impact of AVs; Individualism; Manipulation; Poor people; Reform movements

Subjects: Social reformers--Appalachian Region

01:47:50 - Insider/outsider concept / identity

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Partial Transcript: You, you see a definite insider/outsider conflict throughout this whole War on Poverty era?

Segment Synopsis: Best talks about the insider/outsider concept, mentioning that in his opinion it doesn't fit the situation during the War on Poverty era. He also talks about how people identify themselves.

Keywords: Identity

Subjects: Appalachians (People)