John Edwards isn't the first national politician to highlight poverty in Eastern Kentucky. It was more than 40 years ago when President Lyndon Johnson talked about a war on poverty from a front porch in Martin County.
"This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America," President Johnson said.
That was in 1964 during President Lyndon Johnson's State of the Union Address. A few months later, he would come to Eastern Kentucky to put a face on his war on poverty. Four years later, Robert Kennedy toured the region just before announcing his intention to run for president. Kennedy stopped in Hazard where he walked through an area of town now known as Liberty Street talking with local leaders and visiting homes. He wanted to take his findings back to Washington in hopes of changing policies to reduce poverty. Kennedy would be dead four months later, but Hazard Mayor Bill Gorman believes he still made a difference.
"I think Bobby Kennedy really had an influence on the poverty programs of this nation," Gorman said.
The Kennedy trip is remembered fondly by many and was even re-enacted in 2004. Charlie Hammonds portrayed Former Hazard Mayor Willie Dawahare.
"I thought that was quite an honor for the city of Hazard for him to come here and especially to this part of town," Hammonds said.
Fast forward more than 30 years to July 5th, 1999. President Clinton, along with Rev. Jesse Jackson and business leaders came to Hazard to promote a plan to encourage more investment by corporations into areas with high unemployment rates. That same day, it was announced that Sykes Enterprises would build two new call centers in Eastern Kentucky bringing hundreds of new jobs. Since then, both have closed and one reopened again.
While it's debatable how much progress we have or haven't made since 1999, there's no doubt we've come a long way since the days of L.B.J. and R.F.K. Only time will tell if John Edwards will make a lasting impression on the people of Eastern Kentucky.
Several other presidents, presidential candidates and former presidents have visited Eastern Kentucky over the years. Edwards poverty tour is similar to that trip Robert Kennedy made nearly 40 years ago. In fact, his journey ended today where Kennedy did at the old Floyd County Courthouse in Prestonsburg.