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Black Activist in Appalachia Argues for Food Stamps (1968)

Mary Rice Farris, a Black woman born and raised in Kentucky, became an activist and fought on behalf of poor, Black Appalachian citizens. In February 1968, she testified as part of U.S. Senate hearings on federal aid to low-income families. Facing Senator Robert F. Kennedy and Congressman Carl D. Perkins, Farris advocated for changes to improve the quality of the assistance residents received from the commodity program in Madison County, Kentucky.

The next witness is MARY RICE FARRIS.

I am Mary Rice Farris. Representative of a delegation of Madison County.

Senator Kennedy, in regards to the Public Welfare, I know your stand on this, and we would like for the State and Public Assistance Agencies to determine whether local agents’ actions in regards to their eligibility for welfare and increase in the amount, whether this is going according to the state and federal programs, and I would like to ask Mr. Perkins and you what his comment was on this Anti-Welfare bill that will take effect in July, because we are seeking aid for the hungry and for the homeless and for the poor in Appalachia and our vote is for the poor, and we would like to know your stand on this, and we would like to know, sir, why Madison County is the only county in the target area of Appalachia that doesn't have food stamps.

Q.1 You still have the Commodity Program?

A Yes.

Q.2 How does it work?

A I want to say it's administered unfairly; it’s according to who you are; some get this and some get that and some don't. We know these people talked about food stamps -- the Commodities, the meal has bugs, the flour has worms, the raisins has bugs — little black bugs -- not all of them but most of them. We find, that the Fiscal Court won’t hear us because we do know of one Magistrate that has his wife giving out Commodities, and we have made surveys in our county, we realize a lot of people it helps but we have made surveys and the hungry are willing to accept the stamps and the welfare recipients want the food stamps, and we know a lot of people. If we had them, they could have more decent food and a more balanced diet for 16 their children, and we know this could be had. We are working with the Community Action Group; we were poor ourselves and raised in poverty and married ourselves in the Depression and raised our children in poverty, so now we are working with Community Action Agencies, with the poor people, and we want to ask one more question: Senator, Mr. Perkins; if we are spending $70 million dollars a day in Vietnam, plus loss of life, when they are millions of people in our area hungry, without homes and decent housing, or without clothing, and we would also like to know why the Negro is having to fight too for a decent place in society as a rightful American citizen?

SENATOR KENNEDY: You have turned this hearing around. You are asking us questions.

Source | U.S. Senate, Subcommittee on Employment, Manpower, and Poverty Field Hearing at Vortex, Wolfe County, Kentucky, February 13, 1968. https://rfkineky.org/docs/Vortex_transcript.pdf
Item Type | Government Document
Cite This document | “Black Activist in Appalachia Argues for Food Stamps (1968),” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed April 16, 2024, https://shec.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/3022.

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