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Liberty (La Center, Kentucky)
First published in 1909, the Liberty at once demonstrates the rapid growth of the Farmers Educational and Cooperative Union of America--better known as the National Farmers Union--as well as the organization’s limited appeal in early 20th-century Kentucky. The Liberty began publication in La Center, Kentucky, as an outgrowth of the La Center Advance, a four-page Democratic weekly also published by the Liberty Publishing Company. The Advance, established in 1906, had been an ardent local voice for the National Farmers Union. The Liberty was conceived as a means to extend the union’s message to a statewide audience. A single issue of Liberty from February 16, 1910, survives.
Founded in Texas in 1902, the National Farmers Union was, like the National Grange and the Farm Bureau Federation, one of several organizations then representing the interests of American farmers. R. L. Barnett, a Texan, arrived in Kentucky to organize for the union. He and farmers in the state’s westernmost region, the so-called Jackson Purchase, established Kentucky’s first union local in Carlisle County in May 1906. A state union was organized in Paducah in August 1908, and all but one of the officers elected at the state convention came from Jackson Purchase counties. Despite significant activity in western Kentucky, the Union met with limited success elsewhere in the state and soon disappeared from Kentucky altogether. In 1909, the National Farmers Union’s President Charles Simon Barrett attributed the difficulty in organizing Kentucky’s grain and tobacco farmers to their doubts about an organization so closely identified with cotton producers. Stories in the La Center Advance from 1908 and 1909 suggest another reason for the union’s limited progress: a direct conflict between the union and Kentucky’s Planters Protective Association over who would represent Kentucky’s tobacco farmers. The planters’ association, the organization at the center of the state’s violent Black Patch War (1904-9)--which first pitted farmers against distant tobacco trusts and later against each other--was then at the height of its own short-lived power.
The only surviving issue of the Liberty includes minutes from the annual Farmers Union national meeting, President Barrett’s address, and correspondence from western Kentucky towns and counties. Several stories and advertisements refer to the establishment in Louisville of a cooperative warehouse, the Farmers’ Union Exchange, where members might sell their produce and livestock at fair prices. Alternatives to tobacco are touted: “The best way of beating the Tobacco Trust is to let it alone. Raise something else,” including broom corn and vegetables to be canned by farm families and marketed both locally and nationally. The issue was completed by serial fiction, several general interest stories, and a poem by William Chesterfield, chair of the Kentucky Farmers Union.
In April 1910, the Liberty Publishing Company’s stockholders resolved to transfer the Liberty to a place better suited to statewide publication, but if the paper did leave La Center remains unclear. The Liberty apparently ceased operations between 1911 and 1913. The La Center Advance was sold to James V. Wear of Benton, Kentucky, who maintained the paper’s Democratic politics but almost immediately eliminated its Farmers Union content.
Provided by: University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY