‘The Fall Of Kentucky’s Rock’ examines history of Western Kentucky politics

Western Kentucky is a unique in its geography, history, and politics, writes author and historian George Humphreys.

Western Kentucky is a unique area of the Commonwealth in many ways: geographically, historically, and politically. Author and historian George Humphreys sought to outline the region’s complex political transformation. Humphreys speaks to Tracy Ross about the new publication.

The Fall of Kentucky’s Rock: Western Kentucky Democratic Politics from the New Deal traces the arc of politics and the economy in western Kentucky from avid support of the Democratic Party to its present-day Republican identity.

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Drawing on extensive archival research and oral history interviews, Humphreys explores the area’s political transformation from a solid Democratic voting block to a conservative stronghold by examining how developments in agriculture, the diversification of the economy, and civil rights movement affected the region.

“Western Kentucky was considered the rock of Kentucky democracy,” Humphreys explains. “If you look at the gubernatorial campaigns, say, 1931 up through 1979 and on, Kentucky is considered a blue state. But if you take western Kentucky out of the equation, we would have been a red state or a toss-up state.”

Humphreys says this could have been due in small part to the Civil War and the civil rights movement. “[A lot of people] go back to the 1960s, borrowing from Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon the idea that the civil rights legislation of the 1960s torpedoed democratic strength in western Kentucky.”

“I just don’t find that to be the case,” Humphreys continues. “I see more of it coming later with the equal rights amendment and onto abortion and guns and the typical social issues that have divided the state and the country for the last 50 years.”

Humphreys says that he aimed to make The Fall of Kentucky’s Rock something that “would be of interest not just from an academic standpoint or the people who work in politics, but also to the general audience. I deal with a lot more than just the politics.”

“I talk a great deal about developments [and improvements] in our roads and bridges, the establishment of colleges, what happened in terms of the growth of our towns and our industries. So, I think of it as a much bigger story that feeds into the politics.”

The Fall of Kentucky’s Rock: Western Kentucky Democratic Politics from the New Deal is available now through the University Press of Kentucky.

‘The Fall Of Kentucky’s Rock’ examines history of Western Kentucky politics

WKMS

This story first ran on WKMS, the public radio station at Murray State University.