Interview with Tena Messer, November 28, 1990
Project: Appalachia: War On Poverty Oral History Project
Interview SummaryTena Messer grew up in Pasadena, California and studied to be a teacher in Santa Barbara, California. She states that she did not feel ready to teach when she graduated, and so she volunteered to become a VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) and was assigned to Appalachia in 1965. Messer describes the five-week training course where she met her future husband, Flem Messer. Messer describes the insider-outsider conflict among the Appalachian Volunteers (AVs), and explains her own sensitivity to the issue because her husband was from the mountains while she is not. Messer also discusses the role of Harvard researcher Dan Fox with the Appalachian Volunteers.
Messer recalls her first assignment in a small school on Hurricane Creek in Pike County, Kentucky. She began tutoring "problem children" who had been abandoned by other teachers. She describes the poverty and the lack of government assistance in the community. Messer explains that after she and Flem were married, they worked together to establish a community center in Mud Creek and an "outpost" for children who had dropped out of school. They were able to persuade many students to attend and began tutoring them, but community leaders accused them of running a school to compete with the local schools. The Messers were forced to close their community center.
Tena Messer states that she and her husband returned to his hometown where he worked for a Community Action Program (CAP), but the couple soon were involved in more controversy. She explains that Flem was accused of spreading communism, and she was rumored to have broken up his first marriage. Messer describes trying to maintain a normal family life for her young children and turning away from activism due to increasing family responsibilities. Messer now works as a teacher and assists her husband with his insurance agency in Danville, Kentucky.
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Interview UsageInterviews may be reproduced with permission from Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, Special Collections, University of Kentucky Libraries.
Interviews may be reproduced with permission from Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, Special Collections, University of Kentucky Libraries.
All rights to the interviews, including but not restricted to legal title, copyrights and literary property rights, have been transferred to the University of Kentucky Libraries.
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Messer, Tena Interview by Margaret Brown. 28 Nov. 1990. Lexington, KY: Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries.
Messer, T. (1990, November 28). Interview by M. Brown. Appalachia: War On Poverty Oral History Project. Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries, Lexington.
Messer, Tena, interview by Margaret Brown. November 28, 1990, Appalachia: War On Poverty Oral History Project, Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries.
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