Launched in 1964, the War on Poverty quickly took aim at the coalfields of southern Appalachia. There, the federal government found unexpected allies among working-class white women devoted to a local tradition of citizen caregiving and seasoned by decades of activism and community service.
Jessica Wilkerson tells their stories within the larger drama of efforts to enact change in the 1960s and 1970s. She shows white Appalachian women acting as leaders and soldiers in a grassroots war on poverty--shaping and sustaining programs, engaging in ideological debates, offering fresh visions of democratic participation, and facing personal political struggles. Their insistence that caregiving was valuable labor clashed with entrenched attitudes and rising criticisms of welfare. Their persistence, meanwhile, brought them into unlikely coalitions with black women, disabled miners, and others to fight for causes that ranged from poor people's rights to community health to unionization.
Inspiring yet sobering, To Live Here, You Have to Fight reveals Appalachian women as the indomitable caregivers of a region--and overlooked actors in the movements that defined their time.
"A crucial piece of the history of social justice in America, placing the true history of Appalachian women's radical, blood-red roots on vibrant display." —Kim Kelly, Pacific Standard
“Wilkerson surveys these women and the movements they influenced with thoughtfulness and clarity, forging an intelligent path through complicated chains of historical events, as well as a host of relevant individuals and cultural factors.” —Emily Choat, Knoxville News Sentinel
"A bold new examination of women's struggles in Appalachia rests on a concept that is both simple and profound: the caregiver as activist. . . . Thanks to Wilkerson's efforts, histories of women's bravery and persistence are here brought to life and preserved to inspire new generations." —Women's Review of Books
"Essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the War on Poverty in Appalachia, this book documents the central role of working class women in Appalachian resistance movements in the 1960s and 1970s. Drawing on a tradition of family care giving and community support, mountain women brought to their activism an awareness of the profound connection between environmental, health, and economic justice that redefined class and gender issues in America and offered an alternative vision for their communities and our capitalist nation. Based upon extensive oral history research, To Live Here, You Have to Fight challenges many of our contemporary assumptions about Appalachia and is an important book for our time."—Ronald D Eller, author of Uneven Ground: Appalachia since 1945
"From the 1960s–1980s, working-class women built, led, and sustained movements to improve the health and welfare of families and communities across the Mountain South. Wilkerson introduces these activists and shows how lifetimes of caring for ailing coal miners and struggling Appalachian communities inspired both urgent demands for social justice and radical critiques of rampant capitalism. This book uncovers new links between mid-century social change movements and offers a critical reminder that the fire for justice smolders even when victories are few."—Anne M. Valk, author of Radical Sisters: Second-Wave Feminism and Black Liberation in Washington, D.C.
"In her fabulous new book, To Live Here, You Have to Fight, Jessica Wilkerson tells the untold story of the 'grassroots war on poverty' waged in the Appalachian South in the 1960s and 1970s. At the forefront of this campaign were women, women who saw themselves as family 'caregivers.' This was never just a domestic role, though it was that. It was a role that brought women to the polling station, the picket line, and to workplace protests of their own. Jessica Wilkerson tells these stories of struggle with compassion, sophistication, and heart. Readers will come away from her book understanding more about the everyday meanings and complexities of gender and class in the South, but also with a sense of what is possible when people mobilize for respect and better days." —Bryant Simon, author of The Hamlet Fire: A Tragic Story of Cheap Food, Cheap Government, and Cheap Lives
Publication supported by a grant from the Howard D. and Marjorie I. Brooks Fund for Progressive Thought.