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An Appalachian Boy’s Life: A Walk in Three Centuries by Flem R. Messer

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What an amazing life! Flem Messer has often found himself in situations that offered few good options, but he is so likable and so obviously competent, that he has somehow landed, over and over again, on his own two feet. Although he was born in 1935, Flem Messer considers his memoir to take place over three centuries, as noted in his sub-title, because he grew up deep in the mountains of Southern Clay County and Northern Knox County. There, the way he lived was like the way his great-grandparents, who he knew well, lived in the middle of the 19th Century. Flem dropped out of a one-room-school when he was in the fourth grade at the age of 15, and then his life involved working a series of temporary jobs in temporary places, often in the timber industry. After a stint as an industrial worker in Indianapolis, he enrolled in Berea College’s Foundation School, and from there eventually obtained a college degree. Much of this book is devoted to the exciting years he spent working in the War on Poverty, mostly in Clay and Jackson Counties, in the 1960s and 1970s. When the War on Poverty came pretty much to a screeching halt under President Nixon, Flem Messser obtained a job selling life insurance and eventually his company trained him as a broker. In1987 Flem Messer and his family moved to Danville, Kentucky, and his life has remained remarkably stable ever since! “This inspiring memoir by a native son reveals much about the history of Appalachia since World War II. A former community organizer in the War on Poverty, Flem Messer relates the stories of rural poverty, out migration, educational struggle, political intrigue, and resistance that characterized the lives of a generation of mountain young people who came of age during the Great Society era of the 1960s. Well written and very readable, this little volume casts light on the triumphs and the tragedies of the human experience in a much-misunderstood part of America.” – Ronald D. Eller.

Denver, Colorado: Outskirts Press, 2017. 301 pages. Trade paperback