Wednesday, 15 April 2009

The Temptation: Edgar Tolson and the Genesis of Twentieth-Century Folk Art

by Julia S. Ardery

In March, the newly formed Appalachian Committee for Full Employment, organized by the Perry County-based miners group, arranged a meeting jointly with SDS. At this "symposium" on conditions in the mountains, held at the Allais Union Hall in Hazard, March 28, 1964, Gibson held forth before a crowd of nearly two hundred, half local people and half students, both black and white, from across the Midwest. Novelist Gurney Norman, then a reporter for the Hazard Herald, remembered being cautioned by one wary citizen, "Be careful, honey, a lot of them are art majors."

In fact, there was a strong cultural dimension to this assembly of union activists and campus radicals, in addition to its overt political purpose. The Committee for Miners arranged for a group of the era's most popular folk singers, including Carolyn Hester, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, and Eric Andersen, to "see the situation first-hand." Paxton was inspired to write "The High Sheriff of Hazard." As late as 1968, the New York committee was continuing to raise contributions through its New York offices and to enlist folk singers for benefit performances, among them Judy Collins, Mississippi John Hurt, Dave Van Ronk, and Hedy West.

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