CORBIN -- Perhaps it's hope -- one small and simple word making all the difference, possibly changing the way we write our own history books.
Many news outlets and journalists including those at The Washington Post and ABC News have spent a lot of time comparing the correlations between the Great Depression and the coronavirus pandemic.
The Times-Tribune looked to Corbin High School U.S. history teacher Chris Kinsel and long time Whitley County resident Loy Hobert White for authority on the topic. Kinsel, who grew up in Corbin, got an education in history at the University of Kentucky and along with teaching U.S. history also teaches a film class. White was born during the Great Depression.
Wondering if the two subjects were going to be like comparing apples to oranges, Kinsel quoted an old phrase often attributed to Mark Twain: History doesn't repeat itself but it rhymes.
There are obvious comparison points like the unemployment numbers.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate in April increased by 10.3 percentage points to 14.7 percent. This is the highest rate and the largest over-the-month increase in the history of the data (available back to January 1948). The number of unemployed rose by 15.9 million to 23.1 million in April. The sharp increases in these measures reflect the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to contain it.
At the peak of the Great Depression the unemployment rate was approximately 25 percent nationwide, said Kinsel and in African American communities it was 50 percent.
Unemployment in the Great Depression impacted White's family, but they were resilient and overcame the challenges unlike so many around them.
At the time White's father, W.N. White was successful in the timber business just outside Jellico, Tennessee. His mother owned a dry goods store and for someone who only had an eighth-grade education this was an accomplishment. White was their youngest child.
"They were doing very well until the Great Depression hit," White wrote in a letter to the Times-Tribune.
White recalled learning about how on a Friday his parents went to withdraw $1,000 from the bank in Jellico and they told them to come back on Monday. When the Whites returned on Monday, there was a sign that said "Bank Closed." White said at that time the bank didn't have insurance and his parents lost the $1,000.
Soon thereafter his mother had to close the dry goods store. His father lost his job as well.
Kinsel said it's really hard to compare the two historical events much beyond the financial impact. But he's certain the country has learned some lessons from the Great Depression and the recession of the late 2000s.
Kinsel talked some about the New Deal and doesn't ignore the good that it brought, but acknowledges that it only did so much. He draws not only on his education in the subject matter but from the stories of his grandfather who lived through the Great Depression.
Kinsel's grandfather, Harold Gant, grew up near Rockholds and during the Great Depression his family was very fortunate. They continued to work through the tough times that many around them faced.
One of the special stipulations with the Great Depression was industry being turned on by World War II.
"That's the one caveat you have to think about when you put the Great Depression in context," said Kinsel whose grandfather went on to serve in the U.S. Navy during World War II where he witnessed the first atomic bomb explosion. Gant also joined the National Guard and retired as Colonel after 33 years.
There were several local projects that benefited the area as a result of the Great Depression's New Deal including the widening of Corbin's Main Street and former post offices in Corbin and Williamsburg to name a few.
Kinsel said Gant also talked some about community members banning together and helping other people.
"And I think there's some of that in today's world," said Kinsel, adding there could be more of it. "Again, it's very difficult to compare."
White's family got to experience the people banning together.
White's father moved the family to the Red Bird community of Whitley County, where extended family members helped them start fresh. White writes about portions of the travel from Tennessee to Kentucky.
"The first day they traveled in a wagon from Hatmaker Mountain to Newcomb," he wrote. "A family there put them up for the night. My mother never forgot that, because they were so nice. They packed them a lunch to take with them the next day."
In 1931 the White family bought a 100-acre farm in Whitley County. White was only two at the time. He now owns the farm and recalls many childhood memories as his parents started rebuilding there. His mother gardened and his fathered farmed. And while the Great Depression cost the White family much of the life they first created they were resilient and came out with a new perspective and quite a heritage. White said his family likely lived better than most because although they didn't have much money, they always had plenty of food, often giving portions to others.
When looking at the Great Depression and the coronavirus pandemic, it's worth noting that at this point a true comparison is difficult as we're still in the middle of this pandemic and the Great Depression has been in history books for decades.
Kinsel added that even comparing the economics is difficult as the United States hasn't seen the total economic impact of the pandemic.
"There will be economic consequences for sure," said Kinsel. "The severity of which we just don't know."
"No doubt COVID-19 will cause another recession," he writes. "You can expect a big tax increase."
As well as unemployment rates, one similarity that impacted both the people of the Great Depression and those during the coronavirus pandemic is the struggle of mental health.
"When the Great Depression was in full swing there was no hope," Kinsel said. "In today's world there are goals on the horizon. We're actively working on a vaccine, we've got more testing and we're setting dates for things to open back up."
While most believe things will never go back to the way they were before the pandemic, there is a hope for a new way of living. Some are even so hopeful they call it a better way of living.