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Andrew Stern first came to the coalfields of Eastern Kentucky in 1959. He’d read a series of stories stories in the New York Times by Homer Bigart about the depression that had spread through the region. Stern brought his camera, and over the next four years he took photographs in Harlan and Letcher counties.
The images he took back to Washington, D.C., helped spur President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty.
Stern returned to Letcher County earlier this year for the first time in nearly half a century. A show of his photos was hanging at the gallery at Appalshop in Whitesburg. About half the photos in the show were taken in and around Whitesburg, so Stern thought it would be interesting to visit some of the places he had photographed nearly 50 years earlier.
These are the photos Stern took one afternoon. Some things haven’t changed, he realized. RC Cola is still big. So is tobacco. The sign on the curve on Rt. 15 above Whitesburg is new, but the message is the same as it was a half century earlier. The families have many of the same stories he heard in the early 1960s, but they now have cell phones.
Kentucky will hold its presidential primary this Tuesday.