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RFK Tours Depressed Coal Country in West Virginia

Apr. 29, 1964 - Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy toured depressed coal mining areas of West Virginia today. He advised teenagers to stay in school and received a warm welcome from residents who remembered his brother.

The Attorney General’s 15-car motorcade visited Kanawha County towns during the afternoon after a tour of Charleston slum areas. He stopped and talked with the people everywhere he went.

At East Bank, where he addressed a high school assembly, about 200 persons greeted Mr. Kennedy. Several women wept. One cried out: “We remember when you were here with your brother.”

Mr. Kennedy told the crowd the visits was “almost like coming back home.” He first visited West Virginia with the late President Kennedy during the 1960 Presidential primary election.

He told some 1,100 students at East Bank High School “the only way to improve yourselves is through education.”

Regardless of Federal legislation aimed at reducing poverty rolls, he said, “what happens in West Virginia really depends on what you do.”

“It’s the dropouts,” he said, “who will be the ones in trouble. We must find 10,000 jobs every day, and jobs will be available only for those who are educated and capable.”

After leaving the high school, the motorcade stopped near the outskirts of East Bank. There Mr. Kennedy chatted with a man living in a rundown shanty and with three youths.

The teenagers, all of whom had quit school, said they had dropped out because they “didn’t like it.”

Mr. Kennedy replied, “It’s better to be in school than just loafing around.”

After talking with the youths, Mr. Kennedy’s car proceeded to the community of Sharon, where the Attorney General had an old-fashioned chicken dinner in Sharon Methodist Church. Then he traveled on to the Dry Branch and Wet Branch hollows of Cabin Creek, about 18 miles south of Charleston. From there he returned to Charleston.

At a late afternoon press conference, Mr. Kennedy said the solution to West Virginia’s automation problems lies in education, transportation, and job training.

“I saw school age children who are not attending classes,” he said. “An intensive effort should be made to find out what the school needs are. A solution will probably call for both Federal and state aid.”

Mr. Kennedy said during his visit he observed the same dignity in people that he saw in West Virginia four years ago.

“But I also saw some despair in the children,” he said.

When asked about his personal plans, the Attorney General said he would like to stay in government.

He said he was pleased to be back in West Virginia.

“My family has a close association with this state. We’re the greatest supporters West Virginia has — the Kennedys.”

Today’s trip was scheduled so Mr. Kennedy might see first-hand conditions with which workers in the experimental Action for Appalachian Youth program must deal. The program is designed to help Appalachian youths finish school and find employment. Mr. Kennedy is chairman of the President’s Committee on Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Crime.

On a visit to a Charleston junior high school, Mr. Kennedy stumped civic class students by asking which amendments compose the Bill of Rights.

After waiting several moments without an answer, he clapped his hands sharply and said: “Come on, it’s the first 10 amendments. You ought to know that.”

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