Harry M. Caudill

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Harry M. Caudill
Born Harry Monroe Caudill
(1922-05-03)May 3, 1922
Whitesburg, Kentucky, USA
Died November 29, 1990(1990-11-29) (aged 68)
Whitesburg, Kentucky, USA
Occupation Author, historian, lawyer, legislator, and environmentalist
Nationality American
Notable works Night Comes to the Cumberlands
Spouse Anne Robertson (Frye) Caudill (1946- )

Harry M. Caudill (May 3, 1922 - November 29, 1990) was an American author, historian, lawyer, legislator, and environmentalist from Letcher County, in the coalfields of southeastern Kentucky.


Caudill served in World War II as a private in the U.S. Army and was elected three times as to the Kentucky State House of Representatives. He taught in the History Department at the University of Kentucky from 1976 to 1984.

A common theme explored in many of Caudill's writings is the historic underdevelopment of the Appalachian region (particularly his own home area of southeastern Kentucky). In several of his books (most prominently Night Comes to the Cumberlands, 1962) and many of his published articles, he probes the historical poverty of the region, which he attributes in large part to the rapacious policies of the coal mining industries active in the region, as well as their backers: bankers of the northeastern United States. He notes that such interests most often had their headquarters not in Appalachia but in the Northeast or Midwest, and thus failed to properly reinvest their sizable profits in the Appalachian region. Following publication of Night Comes to the Cumberlands, President John F. Kennedy appointed a commission to investigate conditions in the region and subsequently more than $15 billion in aid was invested in the region over twenty-five years.[1]

In his later years he became an active opponent of the rapidly growing practice of strip mining as practiced by companies working in Appalachia, which he believed was causing irreparable harm to the land and its people. He published articles in many magazines in addition to speaking out about the subject. Caudill pointed out that strip mining could be done responsibly as in England, Germany, and Czechoslovakia where topsoil, subsoil, and rocks are removed separately and placed back in layers in their original order.[2]

He also produced several volumes of folklore and oral history, which he collected himself from residents of the area centering on Letcher County and Harlan County, Kentucky.

Caudill killed himself with a gunshot to the head in 1990, faced with an advancing case of Parkinson's Disease.[1] He is buried in Battle Grove Cemetery, Cynthiana, Kentucky.


The Harry M. Caudill Library located in Whitesburg, Kentucky, the main library of the Letcher County Public Library District, is named for Caudill.


"And we just can't afford to sit back and watch all that (land) be destroyed so a few people can get rich now. One of these days the dear old federal government is going to have to come in and spend billions of dollars just to repair the damage that's already been done. And guess who will have the machines and the workmen to do the job? The same coal operators who made the mess in the first place will be hired to fix it back, and the taxpayers will bear the cost."[2]

Books by Harry M. Caudill[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Harry M. Caudill, 68, Who Told of Appalachian Poverty", New York Times, December 1, 1990 [1]
  2. ^ a b David McCullough. Brave Companions: Portraits in History. Simon & Schuster, 1992. p. 163f. ISBN 0-671-79276-8. 

Further reading[edit]

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