A documentary on the life of Harry Caudill, whose 1962 book Night Comes to the Cumberlands helped spark the War on Poverty, the Appalachian Regional Commission and an era of activism in the region, is making the rounds. Harry Caudill: Man of Courage drew a good crowd at the Grand Theater in Frankfort, Ky., Aug. 18.
Caudill's oldest son, James Caudill, said it was gratifying and encouraging to see public interest in his father's issues, such as strip mining, which is much more regulated these days but still a major environmental issue in the region. "Nothing fundamental has changed," he told the crowd after the showing. "Things have changed in small ways, but they are superficial."
Caudill's book "drew national attention to the plunderous activities of the coal industry in Central Appalachia and the devastation it left," writes John Cheves of the Lexington Herald-Leader. "The book helped bring new environmental and property-rights laws, a massive increase in federal aid to the region and an influx of idealistic young people, some of whom still live in the mountains as idealistic old people." Cheves and Bill Estep did a five-story biography of Caudill as part of a Herald-Leader series in 2012-13 that looked at Central Appalachia on the 50th anniversary of the book's publication.
Eastern Kentucky native Jerry Deaton, the film's writer and executive producer, told Cheves, “To me, Harry is almost like the way they describe Atticus in To Kill A Mockingbird. He is one of those men put down on this Earth to do the tough work for us. And he did it. He didn’t care about the the consequences to himself. He said what needed to be said, and I admire that.”