31 Jan 2013

The desperate pictures of rural America that show 1930s-style depression actually lasted until the SIXTIES

These bleak pictures appear to show America in the grip of the 1920s Great Depression. The reality is that they were taken in the 1960s, in a lonely valley in Eastern Kentucky long forgotten by affluent America.
For generations, poets and musicians like Patsy Cline were inspired by the beauty of a land that covers 13 states and where towns are called 'Lovely,' 'Beauty' and 'Kingdom Come.' 
But the harsh reality, as these pictures taken by John Dominis show, was that the people of Appalachia sustained themselves on a bare government subsistence, were ridden with diseases and lived in shacks.

An Appalachian mother clutches her sleeping child while staring into the distance as her other children play around her

Father and son work on the railway track to earn money to feed their family.  60 per cent of families in Appalachian Kentucky were living below the poverty line

The average Appalachian family income of $841 was more than a third lower than the national average. Here a mother looks anxiously as her children eat dinner

An Appalachian man leans against a shelf clutching a cup. The men had little work after the region's mining industry collapsed

A woman hanging out her family's washing during the harsh winter in eastern Kentucky

Dominis’ photos appeared as a 12-page feature in a 1964 issue of LIFE magazine, titled 'The Valley of Poverty'

A woman and her family trudging across a rickety suspension bridge over a sewage-polluted stream towards their two-room shack with its two outhouses in this poverty-stricken area of Appalachia

The wet climate of the Appalachian Mountains caused rot to set into the wooden homes (pictured) and made repairs virtually impossible because the old wood couldn't support new wood

A young boy being washed in a metal tub by his mother

Appalachia stretches from northern Alabama to southern Pennsylvania. In the late 19th century, expansion of the country's railroads brought an increased demand for coal to fuel the trains. Entire communities became dependent on the industry which disappeared as fast as it arrived

In the original LIFE article in 1964, words that accompanied the pictures included: 'Their homes are shacks without plumbing or sanitation. Their landscape is a man-made desolation of corrugated hills and hollows laced with polluted streams'

A man being baptised in a stream in Appalachia. He can be seen covering his mouth as the water was heavily polluted 

A mother caring for her daugther

child with its bottle in the poverty-stricken region of Appalachia

Children looking scruffy but relatively happy outside their home

A mothers feeds her baby by a roaring fire as her husband looks on  

Children learning at an Appalachian school in the 1960s


  1. Working as a deputy sheriff in a mountainous east Tennessee county during the 1980's, I saw these scenes regularly.

    The abject poverty was not as widespread as it was in the 60's, but it exsists to this day.

  2. Funny how our government can spend endless amounts of money on teaching our children communist ideologies in public schools but can;t spend a dime teaching communities basic life skills including sustainable architecture and farming. These communities could have at least lived more comfortable lives and feed themselves. I don't understand how basic necessities take a back seat to brainwashing our society to prepare for a life of slavery to corporations.

  3. As poor as they were, their neighborhoods were nothing like Detroit or Atlanta. The crime rate was low, and test scores of their children were at the national average.

  4. This was the norm for those who grew up during this time. I was raised in nothern Alabama and never had any idea we were poor. We just thought life was this way everywhere. I can remember one day a friend got onto our school bus crying. When I ask what was wrong he told me, "Daddy whipped me for breaking mama's bedspread." it had been so cold in his bedroom, when he turned the covers back to get up, the bedspread "broke". It did not tear - it broke!

  5. Yes they were poor. No jobs and bleak prospects. But there was a dignity and nobility there. Families stayed together. The community looked out for each other as best they could.

    Can't say that about people today.

  6. We are re-entering the golden age of depression related poverty. Go to WalMart on a Saturday morning and feast your eyes on grubby, overweight, sloven, unkept folks who have no place else they can afford to shop and live on diets of processed junk. Unable to get gainful jobs they wander the aisles with what we used to call the "1000 meter stare". Having seen too many disappointments, struggling to maintain a meager existence in a world where they have been relegated to being part of the entitlement society, they pass you by in silence. A quiet desperation no doctor can treat. Hoping for a better life for their kids, because hope for their own future is lost.

    Thank you corporate America. You have lost your humanity in quest of profit. May your riches and prosperity be your curse.

    1. It may be a good thing for those in power to get richer and provide lots of food for their kids. If times really do get worse and worse, we may begin to eat the rich.

  7. It is amazing how the US Government has money for expensive drones and missiles, but cannot improve the lot of common citizens. The USG bails out banks and corporations that have made financial mistakes, but makes no effort to create infrastructure improvement jobs that could well put Americans to work and restart the economy. The people don't need handouts, they just need an opportunity.

  8. The important thing is to send nearly ten million, borrowed at the US tax payers expense, dollars to israel each day. We must support the "chosenites" with the life style they demand.

  9. Supporting Israel is probably the one thing the government is doing right today. How about the countries that are dead set against America and we still send support??????
    Look at the leaders that are being chosen to rule over us today!! What a disaster America is in and we are so blinded by material stuff, we don't even notice!

  10. I never knew I was poor.I just knew I was happy.Didn't need all that fancy stuff.Never miss what I didn't have.My family was clean,had good well water,Today I have the skills to live off the land.The so call poor up-bring made me one of a kind. Got the city folks meet. As for today,jobs would be a big help,not going to beg,just saying there's a need.

  11. We live in a welfare state,country.,when we grew up you didn,t except welfare we worked for ourselves ,canned ,sewed,bathed,washed,our clothes ,and did things for ourselves ,today ,people have no pride in themselves,that,s the reason they weigh way too many lbs.when u set on your backside and look for a handout ,you loose self-respect