Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Marie Cirillo, September 25, 1993

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:07 - Biographical details, parents, and siblings

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Partial Transcript: Uh, today is, uh, today is--what is today?

Segment Synopsis: Marie Cirillo introduces herself and describes her family, including the origins of her parents.

Keywords: Brooklyn (Ny.); Central Kentucky; Immigrants; Southern Italy

Subjects: Families.; Genealogy

00:03:24 - Earliest recollections of Appalachia

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Partial Transcript: I guess one of the things I would like to do is, in terms of talking about how things used to be in the coal fields for, for the people...

Segment Synopsis: Cirillo describes her earliest memories of hearing about coal miners from her father and of going to Central Kentucky during summers.

Keywords: Brooklyn (N.Y.); Central Kentucky; Cirillo Coal Company; News about coal miners' strikes; Perception of coal miners

Subjects: Coal miners

00:05:44 - First move to Appalachia

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Partial Transcript: But then, um, I got back into the Appalachian area when I was, uh, twenty.

Segment Synopsis: Cirillo describes moving into the Appalachia region when she was 20 years old, after joining the convent Glenmary Home Missioners. She worked to help poor coal miners in rural Virginia. She remembers the migration of miners to cities such as Cincinnati, Chicago, and Detroit. The convent opened offices in these cities to help the migrants.

Keywords: Appalachia; Appalachian migrants; Cincinnati (Ohio); Coal mines; Convents; Glenmary Home Missioners; Migrants; Mountain migrants; Mountain migrants in Detroit (Mich.); Strip mining; Uptown Chicago (Ill.); Virginia

Subjects: Appalachian Region--History; Appalachians (People)--Kentucky--Social conditions; Migration, Internal--Appalachian Region

00:08:29 - Impressions of coal miners in Appalachia--Land ownership and generosity

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Partial Transcript: And how would you describe how you feel or how you felt about, uh--what kind of impressions did you get about these people? Uh, what kind of impression did they make on you?

Segment Synopsis: Cirillo describes her impressions of the coal miners, particularly their generosity. She also notes the reason why coal miners often had expensive cars but lived in shacks.

Keywords: Character traits of coal miners; Land ownership among coal miners

Subjects: Land tenure

00:10:48 - Impressions of coal miners in Appalachia--Spirituality and music

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Partial Transcript: I guess I also came to appreciate the, uh, the, the spirit that came out of their music and their poetry.

Segment Synopsis: Cirillo describes her perception of mountain people. She found them spiritual, a quality that was also seen in their music. She notes that this characteristic of mountain people is often not properly understood by outsiders.

Keywords: Beauty of mountains; Being in touch with nature; Christmas; Lonesomeness; Longing; Mechanical life; Misconception of mountain people; Mountain music; Nature; Productive life; Spirituality; Transcendent

Subjects: Mountain people--United States--Public opinion; Spiritual life

00:14:02 - Views on migration of coal miners

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Partial Transcript: Uh, when you said that you--this was--you'd worked in Cincinnati--

Segment Synopsis: Cirillo describes the migration of miners she witnessed during the 1950s and '60s. The mountain people moved to cities like Chicago, Cincinnati, and Detroit. She discusses how some of these migration stories have been preserved.

Keywords: Appalachian Center; Appalachian migrants; Folk opera; Immigrants in Chicago (Ill.); Migrant neighborhood in Chicago (Ill.); Mountain people in Chicago (Ill.); Violence to land

Subjects: Migration, Internal--Appalachian Region

00:17:48 - Second move to Appalachia / reasons for leaving the convent

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Partial Transcript: After you, you went to, to Cincinnati and Chicago and Detroit, when then did you move back into the region, what year approximately?

Segment Synopsis: Cirillo talks about the reasons she left her convent and joined a non-profit organization working in Appalachia. She notes that her move back was also motivated by her concerns about the academic understanding of the Appalachian people, particularly the reasons for their migration.

Keywords: Catholic Church; Clairfield (Tenn.); Land ethics; Non-profits; Order of Sisters; Problems in Catholic Church

Subjects: Land tenure; Migration, Internal--Appalachian Region; Social reformers--Appalachian Region; Strip mining

00:21:56 - Views on land ownership and why some miners did not emigrate to cities

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Partial Transcript: You know the thing that when we talk about out migration and all these things and you are sitting here talking...

Segment Synopsis: Cirillo talks about absentee landlords in Appalachia, the reasons why some miners did not move to cities, and why some migrants came back to the mountains after a short stay in the city.

Keywords: Absentee landlords; American Association; J. M. Hubert company; Land ownership; Migrant experience in cities; Migrants; Migrants from Appalachia

Subjects: Absentee landlordism; Land use, Rural--Kentucky; Migration, Internal; Migration, Internal--Appalachian Region; Rural-urban migration

00:27:21 - Treatment of migrant miners in cities / characteristics of Appalachian miners

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Partial Transcript: Let me ask you this question, why were you attracted to working with this group of people that were still here as opposed to those that were there?

Segment Synopsis: Cirillo talks about the reason she was attracted to studying the people who stayed back and did not migrate to cities. She describes the experience of migrant miners in cities and the prejudice with which they were treated, particularly in Chicago.

Keywords: Characteristics of mountain people; Prejudice; Prejudices against immigrants; Prejudices against mountain people; Reasons for migration among miners; Self-respect among mountain people

Subjects: Migration, Internal; Mountain people--United States--Public opinion; Prejudices

00:33:39 - Views on women's lives and land ownership in Appalachia

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Partial Transcript: Well, when you came back in '68--

Segment Synopsis: Cirillo describes her views on women's condition in Appalachia, specifically Clairfield (Tenn.). She explains how any reform movement was difficult to organize because women lived in isolation without any means of transport. She notes being part of the land reform movement in Appalachia. She helped establish a community land trust that could buy land for building houses for miners and for attracting industries that could create jobs in the region.

Keywords: Clairfield (Tenn.); Community land trust; Creation of jobs in Appalachia; Gender issues; Health services for coal miners; Health services in Appalachia; Incorporated towns; Land laws in Tennessee; Land ownership; Mobility; Strip mining; Vanderbilt University; Women's life in Appalachia

Subjects: Appalachian Region--Social conditions; Land tenure--Law and legislation

00:41:05 - Comparison to post-World War II conditions in Appalachia / employment of migrant miners in cities

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Partial Transcript: The question that I was going to ask was, you know we had this huge out migration in the '50s and '60s...

Segment Synopsis: Cirillo expresses her views on the post-World War II situation in Appalachia and on the origin of strip mining. She also describes how migrant miners found employment in cities and their dependence on their kin. She ponders on the role of women during the time migrant families settled in cities.

Keywords: Appalachia region during World War II; Coal mining during World War II; Manhattan Project; Mountaintop removal coal mining; Origins of strip mining; Selling blood to survive; Strip mining; Women workers

Subjects: Gender issues; Mountaintop removal mining--Appalachian Region; Strip mining; World War, 1939-1945

00:46:20 - Perception of land use in Appalachia / views on future relationship with land

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Partial Transcript: Uh, so, if you would now, when, when you're back here in Tennessee, tell us about, uh--and you got--and you noticed that, uh, the land was the issue and you started the land trust--

Segment Synopsis: Cirillo expresses her views on strip mining and on people's perception of the practice when it started. She talks about her hope of a post-fossil fuel future and the resulting change in people's relationship with their land in Appalachia.

Keywords: Consequences of mountaintop removal mining; Consequences of strip mining; Dependence on coal energy; Dependence on fossil fuel; Environmental damage of strip mining; Environmental responsibility; Land trust; Land use in Appalachia; Problems with strip mining; Resource management in Appalachia; Timber

Subjects: Coal mines and mining--Environmental aspects; Fossil fuels; Strip mining

00:53:41 - Reflections on the past--Lessons learned

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Partial Transcript: What was--I guess if you had to describe in a, in one word maybe, the experience that you saw...

Segment Synopsis: Cirillo talks about what her experience in Appalachia has taught her. She talks about the importance of communities and their relationship to nature. The possibility of sustainable use of land is also discussed.

Keywords: Community; Land ethic; Land ownership; Relationship to land; Relationship to nature; Rural community; Rural land use

Subjects: Environmentalism; Land use, Rural--Kentucky

01:00:15 - Thoughts on the future--Good and bad possibilities of land use

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Partial Transcript: In the future, do you see the same thing happening to us that's happening to those, uh, farms and is I guess is that what we're looking at?

Segment Synopsis: Cirillo talks about her hopes for the future, but also mentions the possibility that there will be no change for decades. She thinks that new alliances between local communities and professionals holds the key to any reform. Continued expansion of large corporate control of land could be disastrous. Protests and violent revolution are possibilities if inequality keeps increasing.

Keywords: Comparison; Farming; Land ethics; Local governance; Mining

Subjects: Environmental protection; Land use, Rural; Public welfare

01:03:53 - Concluding statements--Role of women and education

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Partial Transcript: I guess if you had to sum up everything that--you know, you've been here now for--off and on I guess for almost, uh, 40 years.

Segment Synopsis: Cirillo talks about her hopes - how increased environmental education among children and adults, along with more leadership by women, can bring about change. She talks about the problems and limitations of the current education system. She thinks that education that does not consider the cultural context ignores our relationship with our environment.

Keywords: Caste system; Class system; Community and environment; Cultural context of education; Education; Education in Appalachia; Environmental awareness; Environmental consciousness; Public debate of controversial issues; Public debate of environmental issues; Relationship between education and power; Relevance of education; Strip mining; Women leadership

Subjects: Adult education; Environmental Care; Environmental education; Social classes

01:17:37 - Concluding statements--Role of church in social change and justice

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Partial Transcript: Well, the most consistent thing in some ways is--and the thing that's allowed me all these insights through the years...

Segment Synopsis: Cirillo talks about the role that the Catholic Church and its financial support has played in allowing her to do all the community work in her life. She says that she wouldn't have the insights and understanding about the mountain people if she was not able to stay and work in one place, which was made possible by the stipend she received from the church. She also talks about the similarity of what she does to the Liberation Theology movement in Central and South America.

Keywords: Catholic Church; Land ethic; Liberation Theology; Mountain people all over the world; Role of Catholic Church in Appalachia; Role of Catholic Church in social change

Subjects: Catholic Church; Liberation Theology; Mountain life