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Journeys of Discovery: Where coal once was king

Join correspondent Tom Wilmer in the rural Tennesee heartland for a visit with Becky Magura, CEO of PBS affiliate WCTE, serving middle Tennessee; and a visit with Hippie Jack at his farm. Hippie Jack, aka Jack Stoddart, shares snippets from his life journey passionately advocating for residents of the Upper Cumberland communities—where coal mining once thrived.  

Middle Tennessee’s realm of the Cumberland Plateau is a land rich in natural wonders, but it’s also a place where rural life is often a continuous struggle. Around the time of the Civil War, coal mines opened in the Cumberland Mountains, and company towns in the Wilder Mountain region such as Hanging Limb, Cravenstown and Twinton thrived through the mid-20th century.

In 1972, Stoddart and his wife Lynette moved from New England to a farm in rural Overton County, Tennessee. Just as they settled in, the neighboring coal mining communities were going through death throws of an economic collapse as mines and surface operations rapidly shuttered forever.

Stoddart established friendships with the mountain people and he remains today as one of their most ardent advocates. According to him, to say the residents of the old mining communities are underserved is an understatement, rather they have been forsaken and forgotten. Hippie Jack puts on annual music concerts (temporarily on hold due to COVID-19) where the cost of entry isn’t in dollars, but in food donations.

The underbed music was performed by 5-time Grammy Award-winning musician, David Holt.  

You are invited to subscribe to the Lowell Thomas Award-winning travel show podcast, Journeys of Discovery with Tom Wilmer, featured on the NPR Podcast DirectoryApple PodcastiHeartRadio, the NPR One App & Stitcher.com. Twitter: TomCWilmer. Instagram: Thomas.Wilmer. Member of the National Press Club in Washington D.C. Underwriting support provided by Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Initiative, and the Society of St. Vincent De Paul.

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