Oh to be born a Kentuckian!

By Ron D. Bryant

 

 

To be born an American is wonderful, to be born a Kentuckian is sublime.  Pride in one’s state and country is found throughout America.  People from across the nation boast of their state’s superiority.  Paeans are delivered to the grandeur of their mountains, the magnificence of their shores, and to the overall beauty of their land.   Nevertheless, the pride Kentuckians feel for their home is akin to a religious experience.  In the words of an old poem,

You’re just from old Kaintucky?

Well I’ll be gol durned—say,

I’d rather live in that State

The balance of my days

Than be the Czar of Russia

With his riches and his truck—

Say, I wouldn’t take his kingdom

For one corner of old Kaintuck.

Intensely proud feelings regarding Kentucky voiced by her sons and daughters began as soon as the region became settled.  Verbal and written reports of extremely fertile land, seemingly endless forests, and abundant game lured settlers into Kentucky by the tens of thousands. 

By 1792, Kentucky achieved statehood.  The vast natural resources of the new commonwealth helped make her one of the wealthiest in the Union.  But Kentucky had more than just material riches; she had a wealth of people.  The diversity of those who settled the state brought an infusion of cultures from England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and Germany.

Through years of living on the edge of the frontier, Kentuckians developed a pragmatic way of life.  Survival remained the first and foremost challenge facing early settlers.  By having to struggle to survive, Kentuckians became a fiercely independent, and long after the frontier era had ended, they remained independent and self-reliant.

Kentuckians also loved their land with a passion.  From lordly plantations to humble small farms, the men and women of the commonwealth equated wealth and social status with the ownership of land.

Within a few years of settlement, Kentucky became known as a place that had some of the finest horses in the world.  Horse racing became an obsession with many of the state’s residents.  By 1875, the love of horses and racing had created the Kentucky Derby.  Contrary to what other states may boast; Kentucky remains the horse capital of the world.

The Kentucky colonel with his white suit, moustache and goatee became a part of the American folk image.  His estate surrounded by miles of white painted plank fences that enclose only the finest of Thoroughbreds has become an indelible image in the minds of people throughout the world. 

What perceptions of Kentucky will people from throughout the world have when they return to their homes?  Will they see the state as one of great natural beauty?  Without a doubt.  Will they find Kentuckians warm and hospitable?  More than likely.  Will they really have a better understanding of a commonwealth that is complex as it is magnificent? Probably not.

Kentucky is difficult to place in neat niche.  Kentuckians are proud of their state and its colorful history, but at the same time many residents of the commonwealth “look through a glass darkly” regarding its future.

With tobacco fading away as the main staple of Kentucky agriculture, the state’s reputation of being agrarian is in jeopardy.  The extreme decline in farms in the commonwealth bespeaks an end to not only small family farms and subsequently, a way of life, but also an important source of income that will be at best, difficult to replace.

The state’s horse industry is facing increasing competition from other states.  The crown of the horse kingdom of the world sits uneasily on the commonwealth.  More and more races are taking place throughout the United States.  Florida now proudly proclaims the “Sunshine State” to be the horse capital of America, if not the world.  Neighboring West Virginia has already taken a goodly portion of Kentucky’s signature horse industry.

Coal, one of Kentucky’s greatest natural assets, is under siege.  The coal industry is faced with difficult choices—clean up the process of mining coal, and clean up the pollutants caused from its burning or face an uncertain future.  The cost for both options will not be cheap.  In turn, the consumer will have to pay more for the energy produced by the “burning rock.”

Will the international visitors to Kentucky observe the beauty of the land or will they notice that thousands of acres of prime agricultural land is now being covered with the houses of an ever growing suburbia?  Perhaps so, perhaps not.  The land, just as the horse, is symbolic of the commonwealth.  To Kentuckians, the land is an extension of themselves.  The rolling hills, the mountains, the secluded hollows, the pastures and forests bespeaks far more than real-estate—it is life itself.

Will visitors to Kentucky see a people that are confident about their future and their future of their state or will they observe a people unsure of their place in a changing world?  Moreover, will they note a well-educated citizenry or encounter Kentuckians who display a marked lack of education?  Historically education in the commonwealth has been weak, but for a few exceptions.  Does Kentucky’s public schools provide an education that enables the state’s children to meet the demands of modern life?

Kentucky has far too many adults who can not read.  The ability to communicate in writing is fast disappearing.  Some college freshmen are not capable of writing a coherent sentence.  Their knowledge of the basics of mathematics, science, history, and the English language leave much to be desired.  Will visitors to Kentucky conclude that the state does not emphasize education?

What will visitors to Kentucky say about the growing number of immigrants who may or not be legal?  Does the commonwealth have the resources to control its borders or do some Kentuckians view immigrants as a cheap source of expendable labor?

Kentuckians are a proud people.  They love their state, and they want non-Kentuckians to love it as much as they do.  There are faults in each state, and Kentucky is no different.  There are remedies to the state’s shortcomings, but they will not be inexpensive.

History shows that a well-educated people are a productive people.  Education must constantly be monitored.  The quality of public schools needs to constantly improve, as does the quality of colleges and universities.  A sound education is the key to the success of an individual as well as to the success of a state or nation.

Agriculture in Kentucky is far too important to let die a slow death.  The commonwealth’s soil is rich, and productive, but there must be a replacement crop for tobacco.  Diversified farming will help, but there still is a need for a crop that will provide a major income for the farmer.

Settlers in pioneer Kentucky knew the potential of the land on which they chose to live.  They put their hearts and their backs into making Kentucky a rich and influential state.  Their legacy is a powerful incentive to their descendents, and to those who still choose the commonwealth as their home.

Kentucky is by far the most beautiful state in the country, and Kentuckians should be proud to show it.  The commonwealth’s history is rich and intriguing.  No state can boast of as many colorful characters as Kentucky.  Daniel Boone and the hardy frontiersmen, who helped forge the state, loom large.

Throughout Kentucky history, there are events that will fascinate those who come to Kentucky.  Pride in the state’s accomplishments is appropriate.  When people leave the commonwealth to return to their respective homes, they should leave with a sense of admiration and wonder for they have heard and seen.  From natural beauty, to crafts, music, horses, and all that represents the state, the visitor will be overwhelmed with the superlatives describing Kentucky.

Most of all, the people of Kentucky are the richest resource of all.  The state’s hospitality, the friendliness, and the warmth generated by the genuine smiles young and old alike, will impress those who are fortunate enough to enter the borders of Kentucky.

Problems may abound in the state, but its people have the capability to overcome any obstacle.  Each time someone visits Kentucky or hears about the state, hopefully with the dedicated work of Kentuckians, those individuals will remember all that is positive regarding this very unique state.

In the words of William Lightfoot Visscher, one of Kentucky’s poets,

May Peace and Plenty live with you

Through all the coming ages,

And ever pure your history be

In all its shining pages,

          As our love, Kentucky.

 

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