Newspaper Articles


Charleston Daily Mail
April 15, 1960

Humphrey Has Big Lead in State Poll

By Bob Mellace, Daily Mail Political Editor

Sen. Hubert Humphrey now has taken an impressive lead over Sen. John F. Kennedy in a poll of representative West Virginia communities.

The Minnesota senator was favored yesterday by employed residents of Chesapeake, Kanawha County, and unemployed coal miners in a depressed area of Fayette County. These results, added to those of two other areas surveyed Wednesday, are:

Humphrey 90
Kennedy 66
Undecided 21

In Chesapeake where pollsters worked two blocks after the supper hour last night, Humphrey was favored by 14 voters, Kennedy by four, with one undecided.

Earlier in the day at Layland, on the southern border of Fayette County, Humphrey swamped Kennedy, 13 to 2, with three undecided.

As it was in Huntington’s Fifth Ward on Wednesday, most of the Chesapeake residents giving their support to Humphrey, 10 out of 14, said they were strongly influenced by the fact Kennedy is a Catholic.

In Layland only four of the Humphrey backers said Kennedy’s religion was a factor in their thinking.

The poll was conducted by the Charleston Daily Mail, Lou Harris, a professional opinion surveyor retained by Sen. Kennedy, and Joe Alsop, Washington correspondent and nationally syndicated columnist.

Time magazine sent a representative to observe yesterday’s polling.

Layland was selected as a typical depressed area of the coal fields, and where the mine has been closed over a year. Of the 18 men polled there, only two were working.

This was to balance the findings Wednesday at Slab Fork, Raleigh County, where work is good and where Kennedy got 30 votes to Humphrey’s 27, with 10 undecided, and 13 of Humphrey’s voters influenced by Kennedy’s religion.

Impressedy By Tour

Men at Layland and Chesapeake said they were impressed by Humphrey’s tour of the coal fields and his stop in Chesapeake last week.

Some at Layland said they thought the Minnesota senator “comes from poor people like us,” and that he would understand their problems better than Kennedy whose family is wealthy.

Kennedy’s supporters say they believe their man may catch up to Humphrey in the presidential primary race here if he “makes a real fight in the depressed areas.”

Almost without exception, the residents of both Layland and Chesapeake see the economic condition of this state as the main issue.

All would like to see more work, either through attraction of new industries, public works, or a ban on residual oil imports that, some feel, are helping to close West Virginia mines.

Also, they would like liberalization of the Social Security Act, lowering the retirement age and providing medical assistance to the aged and needy.

Word of the findings in Slab Fork and Huntington was given Sen. Kennedy Wednesday night and it now is apparent he will step up his campaign in West Virginia, where, at the outset, he planned only to campaign 12 days.

State Sen. Ward Wylie, chairman of Kennedy’s state organization, announced today that the Massachusetts candidate will campaign three days here next week, starting Monday. Wylie said “this is a tough fight” and next week’s tour “will be the opening of an intensive drive to win.”

Kennedy will be in Clarksburg Monday, the northern panhandle Tuesday, and in southern West Virginia Wednesday. He will tour the Beckley area, Mt. Hope, Oak Hill, Fayetteville, Charleston, Huntington and Montgomery.


Anti-Catholic Trend In Slab Fork Termed Humphrey Windfall

By Joseph Alsop
(Special To The Daily Mail)

Slab Fork, W. Va. – This place, Slab Fork, hits the unprepared outsider between the eyes, like a blow.

You wind down a deep-pocked road into a cramped and pit-like hollow in the hills. And there is Slab Fork – the hundred or so decrepit looking houses, the tipples of the two mines, the bare, unornamented minimum of little schools and churches and the company store and office, all bleak, graceless and scurfy with coal dust.

Look beneath the surface, however, and you soon discover why the minister of the white Protestant church, the Rev. Mr. Charles Eastwood, calls Slab Fork “just a wonderful community – for a mining camp.” The point is that the small, independent, long-established Slab Fork Mining Company has quality coal, first class local management that stays on the job, and a remarkable employment record.

Lately, mechanization has reduced the payroll by about a fifth. Yet the 400 remaining employes [sic] of the Slab Fork mines are decidedly better off than the people of almost any other mining camp in this part of West Virginia. They have steady work. Their houses, such as they are, rent for $10 a month. Their wages average $100 a week. And on this, as well be seen, a careful man in Slab Fork can even give his children a college education.

The comparative advantages of life in Slab Fork need to be noted, because they perhaps give Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts a special, local advantage over the “poor man’s candidate,” Senator Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota. The other points to note are rather simple.

If Slab Fort were not sternly, even grimly Protestant, the scrubby hillsides probably would have at least one ornament in the form of a shrine to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He is a saint here. Since his day, every white voter has been a Roosevelt Democrat. The few Negroes, in contrast, are mainly Republican, perhaps the ruling majority votes the other way.

The white miners also form as purely an Anglo-Saxon community as you will find in the whole United States. “The names,” said a bewildered member of the Kennedy staff, “sound like the membership list of the Somerset Club” which is Boston’s citadel of Anglo-Saxon privilege. And although Slab Forkers are not privileged by any reasonable standard, they are proud, hard-working, friendly, generally intelligent people.

This reporter spent a long and deeply interesting day in Slab Fork with Lou Harris the professional poller who tests opinion for Senator Kennedy. We polled an enormous sample for such a small place, over 80 people in all. The result showed 30 votes for Kennedy, 27 votes for Humphrey, 10 undecided, and the rest unregistered, or not interested enough to vote, or unable to vote in the Democratic primary because they were Republicans. Slab Fork is in Southern West Virginia, which is supposed to be Humphrey territory. Hence this result looks very good for Kennedy – on the surface.

But as with the town, so with the poll, one must look beneath the surface. We got our first glimpse at the very first house we went to. This was the hillside-perched home, shabby without and cozy and neat within, of the local secretary treasurer of the United Mine Workers, Ernest Martin. A disabled miner, Mac Morris, was also there to talk about his pension.

Ernest Martin and his wife, both church-going Presbyterians, were enthusiastic for Kennedy. They discussed the issues in remarkable detail. They compared the candidates judiciously. They declared their choice firmly. They were supporters to be proud of. But Mac Norris and his wife, when intercepted on the porch, proved to be people of another stripe. They, too, had send Kennedy in action on TV, and they “liked his talk.”

“But we ain’t never had no Catholic,” said Mrs. Norris firmly, “and that’s one thing we’re against and we’ll always be against.”

Next door was neat, sharp-eyed Mrs. Aubrey Nicely, wife of an electrician who had worked 30 years in the mine. She and her husband had sent four boys through the state university – “It’s hard on the old man, but our youngest boy is in graduate school now, and we both think it was worth it,” she said proudly. She too was for Kennedy. But the coal-grimed, slatternly, barefoot wife of another mine-electrician, in a house further down the hillside, was equally strong for Humphrey, and for the same religious reason as Mrs. Norris.

The pattern these contrasting pairs of voters suggest was by no means universal. Not all Kennedy’s support was credible. At the mine, for instance, H. J. Sturgill explained that, “being a Baptist,” he would “”normally be for Humphrey,” but “the guy wants colored in the Cabinet.” Therefore he chose Kennedy.” Two Kennedy voters were Slab Fork: [sic] only Catholics. And Kennedy lost votes, too, because “he’s a rich man, and Humphrey was born a working man like us.”

But it is still fair to say that the majority of Kennedy’s Slab Fork vote was composed of the serious citizens, who had studied their choice and chosen without prejudice. By the same token, it is certainly fair to say that an actual majority of the Humphrey voters were influenced by religious prejudice. By actual count, 13 of the 27 frankly admitted as much.

In summary, this critical West Virginia primary looks like a very ugly business, in which Hubert Humphrey can only win – if he does win – for very ugly reasons. In Slab Fork, in fact, one heard enough un-American prejudice to be downright glad to hear William Sturgill announce his Kennedy vote with the defiant statement, “I’m a Baptist, but I don’t think religion should have anything to do with it. By God, this is a free country.”

The young shot-fireman was coal-blackened from head to toe. He gave his verdict by the cage, where the entrance of the mine yawned darkly, like the portal of Hell. But a vote has not been better justified in the Somerset Club itself.


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