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They'll Cut Off Your Project

A Mingo County Chronicle

Huey Perry, with a foreword by Jeff Biggers

Publication Year: 2011

In old England, if a king didn’t like you, he would cut off your head. Now, if they don’t like you, they’ll cut off your project!

As the Johnson Administration initiated its war on poverty in the 1960s, the Mingo County Economic Opportunity Commission project was established in southern West Virginia. Huey Perry, a young, local history teacher was named the director of this program and soon he began to promote self-sufficiency among low-income and vulnerable populations. As the poor of Mingo County worked together to improve conditions, the local political infrastructure felt threatened by a shift in power. Bloody Mingo County, known for its violent labor movements, corrupt government, and the infamous Hatfield-McCoy rivalry, met Perry’s revolution with opposition and resistance. 

In They’ll Cut Off Your Project, Huey Perry reveals his efforts to help the poor of an Appalachian community challenge a local regime. He describes this community’s attempts to improve school programs and conditions, establish cooperative grocery stores to bypass inflated prices, and expose electoral fraud. Along the way, Perry unfolds the local authority’s hostile backlash to such change and the extreme measures that led to an eventual investigation by the FBI. They’ll Cut Off Your Project chronicles the triumphs and failures of the war on poverty, illustrating why and how a local government that purports to work for the public’s welfare cuts off a project for social reform.


Published by: West Virginia University Press

Series: West Virginia and Appalachia

Front Cover

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Praise For "They'll Cut Off Your Project"

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West Virginia and Appalachia Series Page

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Foreword: Huey Perry's War

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pp. ix-xxviii

Standing on the streets of Williamson, West Virginia in the winter of 1966, Huey Perry dazzled a New York Times reporter with the achievements of his native Mingo County's thirty community action programs. Roads into the back hollows had been repaired; schoolhouses had been renovated. Carpenters assisted by men on relief had torn down ...

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Chapter 1

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pp. 1-12

Mrs. Musick was busy hanging out her morning wash. She took a clothespin out of her mouth and yelled across the creek to my mother, "Did you read in the paper last night where President Johnson is coming to Inez, Kentucky?" ...

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Chapter 2

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pp. 13-21

Although I had lived in Appalachia all my life, I was stunned by the conditions that I saw during the initial weeks of looking in to the hollows of Mingo. The visible effects of poverty were everywhere-the shacks, the filth, the pale, pot-bellied babies, the miners with silicosis, ...

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Chapter 3

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pp. 22-31

Jimmy and I arrived early for the meeting at Goodman, a small mining community about twelve miles west of Williamson. He and several AFDCU enrollees had been working the area for several days and felt the time was right for organizing the community. ...

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Chapter 4

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pp. 32-42

At the end of eight months, Jimmy and Larry Hamrick and I had organized twenty-six community action groups throughout the county. (Not long after, Jimmy left the EOC to go hack to the country music business.) Many of the groups were involved with such projects ...

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Chapter 5

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pp. 43-58

When we began to develop and write the programs for the second fiscal year of Mingo County's War on Poverty, the initial grant received from the OED for program development was almost exhausted. The two priorities that had been established by the community action ...

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Chapter 6

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pp. 59-69

In Morgantown, I discussed the problem of Dingess with Dom Garafalo. Dom was a short, dark-complexioned Italian, who had worked in West Virginia as a labor organizer with the AFL-CIO. Born in south Philadelphia, he became a union organizer at the age of seventeen. He had been with the OEO since its inception, first ...

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Chapter 7

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pp. 70-98

What appeared to be an endless line of cars moved slowly lip Mulberry Street toward Williamson High School. The athletic field, which was used as a parking lot, had already been filled, and both sides of the street were lined with parked cars. Hundreds of people were standing around outside the school. ...

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Chapter 8

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pp. 97-110

By the end of 1966, several of the community groups had become involved with individual community projects. The Harvey District group, after being refused permission by the Board of Education to use a school building for its meetings, constructed its own community center. It ...

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Chapter 9

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pp. 111-135

In the summer of 1967, the Mingo County Economic Opportunity Commission granted me a leave of absence for three months to work with the OEO in the development and implementation of a neighborhood center program that involved fourteen major cities throughout the United States. During that time, I was able to compare ...

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Chapter 10

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pp. 136-148

No sooner had the poor people of Mingo County settled accounts with Chafin than they became involved in a bitter struggle with the county political establishment. Since the AFDCU public hearing, there had been constant quarreling between the poor people and the Floyd machine. Almost everyone anticipated a showdown. It was ...

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Chapter 11

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pp. 149-157

As the May primary election drew close, the activities of the Fair Elections Committee picked up momentum. Hundreds of people were being challenged as ineligible voters, and there was talk throughout the county that the FBI was already investigating the complaints made by the fair elections workers. The candidates endorsed by ...

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Chapter 12

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pp. 158-175

At 4:00 P.M. on March 30, the courtroom of Magistrate Arden Mounts was jammed with spectators who had gathered to witness the trial of the fair elections workers. About half the crowd were ardent supporters of the county political machine. Mounts had been justice of the peace in Stafford District ...

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Chapter 13

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pp. 176-191

After the primary, the County Court intensified its efforts to replace the EOC as the antipoverty agency. Soon, deputy sheriffs, constables, and state and county employees were going through every community and lip every hollow and creek, getting people to sign a petition endorsing the take-over of the antipoverty agency by ...

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Chapter 14

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pp. 192-212

The outcome of the public hearing did not dampen the hopes of the Mingo County Citizens Committee for Education in its efforts to obtain free hot lunches for the low income students of the county. This committee, made up of delegates from all the community action groups, had first approached the Board of Education in ...

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Chapter 15

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pp. 213-226

While the poor people of Mingo County were absorbed in the hot lunch dispute, little attention was given to the fact that, during a special session of the state legislature, Governor Hulett Smith had placed on the agenda antipoverty legislation allowing county courts the authority to take over antipoverty programs. (An assistant ...

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Chapter 16

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pp. 227-237

The Monday following Smith's announcement, I met with representatives from all of Mingo's community action groups. Everyone was disheartened and felt that there was Iittle that could be clone to save the EOC. I suggested that there was one last hope-to make it a statewide issue and get the two gubernatorial candidates ...

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Chapter 17

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pp. 238-256

Although the Mingo County EOC had been successful in opposing the take-over of the antipoverty agency by the County Court, 1969 saw the growth of much apprehension among the poor of the county. Practically everyone who had been involved in the war on poverty believed that the new Nixon Administration would ...

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About the Authors

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pp. 257

Huey Perry, a native of Mingo County, West Virginia, was named Director of the Mingo County Economic Opportunity Commission project at the age of 29. He is an author, entrepreneur, teacher, student, volunteer, chairman, business owner, and farmer. ...

West Virginia and Appalachia Series Page Continued

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pp. 258

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781933202938
E-ISBN-10: 1933202939
Print-ISBN-13: 9781933202792
Print-ISBN-10: 1933202793

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: West Virginia and Appalachia