Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Naomi Weintraub Cohen, August 16, 1987

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:01 - Her introduction to political activism

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Partial Transcript: This is going to be an interview with Naomi Cohen recorded in Gap Mills, West Virginia on the sixteenth day of August, 1987.

Segment Synopsis: Naomi Cohen discusses her family's involvement with political activism and when she began her own involvement with organizing.

Keywords: Civil rights movement; Families; Loyalty oaths; New York (N.Y.); Organizing; Parents; Political activism; Sit-ins

Subjects: Labor unions; Political activists; Protests (Negotiable instruments); Strikes and lockouts

00:05:31 - Attending law school

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Partial Transcript: When did you decide to become a lawyer?

Segment Synopsis: Cohen talks about why she decided to become a lawyer. She talks about her experiences in college and in law school. She discusses how she became involved with the Appalachian Volunteers.

Keywords: Appalachian Volunteers (AVs); Colleges; Law schools; Pine Knob (W. Va.); War claims

Subjects: Lawyers; West Virginia

00:10:08 - Taking a train from Washington D.C. to Johnson City, Tennessee

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Partial Transcript: Do you remember--I've, I've talked to a bunch of people lately, uh, did you go to Washington D.C. and ride on the train to Johnson City?

Segment Synopsis: Cohen talks about her experiences of meeting with the other Appalachian Volunteers in Washington D.C. and riding a train to Johnson City to begin their work in the Appalachian region. She talks about attending training held at a 4-H camp.

Keywords: 4-H camps; Federal government; Friends; Gibbs Kinderman; Johnson City (Tenn.); Ronnie Sue Jaffe; Training; Trains

Subjects: Shriver, Sargent, 1915-2011; Washington (D.C.)

00:14:24 - Her assignment while in Appalachia

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Partial Transcript: What did you expect to do as a volunteer law student?

Segment Synopsis: Cohen discusses her expectations of her responsibilities when coming to Appalachia. She talks about the work she did when she arrived there. She discusses her attempts to get the local people involved in community action.

Keywords: Assignments; Believing; Changes; Community organizing; Convincing; Enthusiasm; Expectations; Law students; Pine Knob (W. Va.); Responsibilities

Subjects: Lobbying; Strip mining--Law and legislation--Appalachian Region

00:18:55 - Political context / deciding to stay in West Virginia

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Partial Transcript: Do you remember much about the political context in which, you know the--on a state level in which your activity took place?

Segment Synopsis: Cohen talks about the perceptions of the outside volunteers by the local politicians and media. She talks about whether they had allies, especially with the strip mining issue. She talks about why she decided to stay in Appalachia after her first summer.

Keywords: Allies; Influence; Law school; Lifestyles; Local politics; Media; Paul Kaufman; Political contexts; Radicals; Rural areas; Staying

Subjects: Strip mining--Law and legislation--Appalachian Region

00:24:27 - Her beliefs in the ability to change laws / VISTA workers as government representatives

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Partial Transcript: When, when you were out talking to people about 'well, we're going to get the law changed' and so on...

Segment Synopsis: Cohen discusses whether she believed in the work she was doing and that the community action groups could affect change. She talks about whether she felt like she was a representative of the federal government as a VISTA worker.

Keywords: Amendments; Beliefs; Black lung movement; Changing laws; Doubts; Federal government; Government representatives; VISTA; War on Poverty

Subjects: Volunteers in Service to America

00:29:02 - Criticism of the outside volunteers and her own criticisms of the program / inequality within the program

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Partial Transcript: The fact of being criticized in the newspapers and by the politicians and so on, did that bother you or upset you?

Segment Synopsis: Cohen talks about how she felt about the volunteers facing criticism from local politicians and the media. She talks about her own criticism of the way the program operated. She talks about the sex discrimination present within the program. She tells a story about organizing a camping trip in Babcock State Park.

Keywords: "VISTA dolly"; Babcock State Park (W. Va.); Camping; Chester; Clear Fork (W. Va.); Criticisms; Debacles; Farming; Focus; Imposing ideas; Interest; Leadership; Margaret; Potato-growing co-ops; Radicals; Richmond district (W. Va.); Sexism; Women's liberation

Subjects: Sex discrimination against women

00:41:42 - Mercer County Community Action Program

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Partial Transcript: So then the next--after the summer of '67 you went back to law school and graduated in sixty...

Segment Synopsis: Cohen discusses finishing law school and working with the Mercer County Community Action Program and beginning to provide legal services.

Keywords: Black lung movement; Law schools; Legal services; Mercer County Community Action Program; Poverty Programs

Subjects: Lawyers; Lungs--Dust diseases--Law and legislation--United States; Mercer County (W. Va.)

00:44:57 - Appalachian Research and Defense Fund (AppalReD)

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Partial Transcript: What do you remember about the beginnings of AppalReD?

Segment Synopsis: Cohen discusses her role in the creation of the public interest law firm, AppalReD.

Keywords: Appalachian Research and Defense Fund (AppalReD); Legal services groups; Public interest law firms

Subjects: Appalachian Region; Lawyers

00:49:05 - Impact of the Appalachian Volunteers and VISTA programs / changes in opinion as she ages

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Partial Transcript: Do you think that your experiences as a Appalachian Volunteer and as a VISTA, I mean obviously without that you wouldn't be a resident of West Virginia but did it have any other impact, do you think?

Segment Synopsis: Cohen discusses how the volunteer programs have affected the Appalachian region as well as the effects on her own life. She talks about how her opinions of the work they did have changed over the years.

Keywords: Changes; Ellis Bailey; Family-oriented; Getting older; Impact; Regrets; Sheltered; VISTA

Subjects: Volunteers in Service to America; West Virginia

00:53:19 - Making the strip mining documentary

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Partial Transcript: Do you have any s--any special memories of that movie?

Segment Synopsis: Cohen talks about the strip mining documentary made by Bob Sharpe, "Before the Mountain Was Moved." She talks about the participation of the townspeople and her role, or lack thereof, in the film. She discusses how the outside volunteers wanted their role to be perceived. The interview is concluded.

Keywords: "Before the Mountain Was Moved"; Appalachian Volunteers (AVs); Bob Sharpe; Compensation; Decision-making; Films; Grassroots organizing; Leaders; Local people; Movies; Payment; Philosophies; Tactical decisions; Tedious

Subjects: Strip mining--Law and legislation--Appalachian Region; Volunteers in Service to America