Yesterday's News

75 years ago, more than 100 hungry men in Union Co. marched to show their plight

By FRANK BOYETT, Gleaner staff writer
April 2, 2006

It was a pretty somber parade.

Seventy-five years ago more than 100 hungry men from the DeKoven and Curlew communities of Union County marched 16 miles from their homes to the courthouse at Morganfield to demand food for themselves and their families. They were mostly miners thrown out of work when coal mines closed during the Great Depression.

"It was the first demonstration of its kind ever staged in Union County," The Gleaner reported on April 1, 1931. But it was no April Fools joke. The men were desperate enough to take what their families needed if it weren't offered freely.

"The seriousness of the situation in the county was not fully realized by the public until after the large delegation had presented the cause, in a peaceful manner, to county officials."

The citizens of Union County, once they realized their neighbors' great need, reacted swiftly in Christian love.

"Almost within three hours after they had demanded food, a truck loaded to capacity with provisions was dispatched to the two villages. The food was donated here (in Morganfield) by private citizens."

Plans were also made to continue to gather food once the initial shipment ran out. Committees were appointed to supervise the collection and distribution of relief supplies.

The column of men was pathetic, not in the sense that it was contemptible, but in that it would break your heart to see it.

"Some members of the crowd were old men, a few more than 70 years old. Young boys were also in the group. One man carried a banner in the lead, which contained the hardly legible handwriting, 'We Want Work.' In the rear another member shouldered an American flag."

The march included two wagons drawn by mules, in which "the old and feeble members would ride when they became exhausted from the long and tiresome jaunt."

The first leg of the trip was the six miles from DeKoven to Sturgis, where the miners spread word of their need, and urged Sturgis citizens to accompany them the next 10 miles to Morganfield. They arrived about noon and at once began canvassing the town, urging all citizens to come and hear what they had to say. A large crowd gathered.

"They paraded up the main street of the town and into the courthouse," The Gleaner reported. Alex MacDowell of Curlew and Fred Rehn of DeKoven were the designated speakers to the public officials and businessmen of Morganfield who had gathered.

"We don't want money; we want food," one of the speakers said. "Some families may have enough food to keep them alive for a week but others haven't a copper (penny) in their kitchen. We must have food, and if it is not given to us, we will have to take it."

Morganfield citizens "expressed deep concern" as they heard the desperate plea, and assured the miners that help was forthcoming.

The Red Cross had been providing relief in Union County, much as it was doing in Henderson County in 1931, but the agency was overwhelmed by the severity of the economic downturn.

County Judge W.H. Harris estimated about 800 Union County families were in need, but noted that a shipment of seed had been donated from New York "to assist the farmers in making new crops."

Times were tough all over, according to a March 22 article in The Gleaner. It noted that since the first of 1931 a total of 540 people had arrived at the city jail begging for food and shelter for the night. "Their addresses include almost every state in the union. One night during January this year a man, his wife and three children were accommodated."

People were on the move, trying to find work somewhere -- but it was in very short supply everywhere. There were efforts to jump-start the economy, however, by urging citizens to create work for their neighbors.

A full-page advertisement in The Gleaner on March 8 listed 100 jobs that homeowners could offer to less-fortunate neighbors, from washing windows and painting fences to ironing clothes and darning socks.

"This is a sound investment of your money -- and sound patriotism," the ad read. "Give all the employment you can. There are many things to be done, and now is a good time to do them, as you are buying material at very favorable prices."

100 years ago

County road supervisor and former magistrate Joseph Johnson got drunk and fell asleep on the train platform at Reed, according to the 1906 Gleaner. He never woke up.

"He was thought to have been sitting on the edge of the platform asleep when the on-coming train struck him and knocked his body the distance of 40 feet." He had served as magistrate from 1894 through 1903.

50 years ago

A powerful tornado tore its way across the county on April 3, 1956, killing Sudie Belle Staples, The Gleaner reported. Her body was found -- still sitting in her rocking chair -- in a pond 150 feet from her demolished house. She was 83. Her son, Murray Staples, 56, survived the devastation.

25 years ago

The supports for the Second Street railroad overpass were completed and the act of building the actual road was ready to begin, according to a 1981 photo in The Gleaner.

Construction had begun in December 1979 and local officials took the first trip over the structure on Dec. 18, 1981.


Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2006 HCH&GS