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Perkins, Carl D. : Home

Written by Heather Dent. '11, Edited by Katie Grindstaff, '15

Carl D. Perkins

Carl D. Perkins (15 October 1912 - 3 August 1984) was a politician and member of the United States House of Representatives.


Early Life, Education, and Career

Carl D. Perkins, the son of J.E. and Dora (Calhoun) Jenkins, was born in Hindman, Kentucky on 15 October 1912. He attended grade schools, Hindman High School, and Caney Junior College in Knott County. He served as one of two teachers in a Knott County country school, from which he lived 10 miles away, instructing a total of 90 pupils.

In 1935, Perkins graduated from the Jefferson School of Law in Louisville, Kentucky. He served part of a term as a Commonwealth’s Attorney and a Knott County Attorney. He also carried out a term in the State Legislature. During World War II, Perkins was called to serve in the U.S. overseas in the E.T.O. He participated in combat in battles set in Northern France, at the Battle of the Bulge, the European theater battles of the Ardennes and the Rhineland.
He married a first grade school teacher, Verna Johnson, and they had one son: Carl Christopher.

Career in Congress

In 1948, Perkins was elected to the House of Representatives under the Truman administration. For many years, he was the ranking Democratic Member of the House Education and Labor Committee. He served as chairman of the General Subcommittee on Education, handling the measures inaugurating “landmark” programs to help grade schools, high schools, and vocational schools.

Representative Perkins strongly supported welfare programs identified with the New Deal, Fair Deal, New Frontier, and Great Society, increased social security benefits, Medicare, school lunches, public works, the war on poverty, the Youth Conservation Corps, financial help for libraries and bookmobile services, Federal scholarships, work-study and student loans, and Federal funds for highways and hospitals. He was also the sponsor of the Area Redevelopment Act, the Manpower Development and Training Act, the Public Works Acceleration Act, the Small Water Protection Act, and the Water Pollution Control Act.


Berea College awarded Carl D. Perkins with the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws in 1972.

Further Reading

Leader in Poverty Fight
Washington, Nov. 16, 1967

When the political world of Adam Clayton Powell of Manhattan crumbled last January, a big, seemingly bumbling man from the mountains of Eastern Kentucky fell heir to one of the most sensitive jobs in congress – Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.
Man in the News
“Carl’s no leader, that’s for sure,” one committee member said at the time. “But what could we do? He was in line for the job.”
This week, Carl Dewey Perkins proved his critics wrong as he and key members of his committee steered the Administration’s anti-poverty program through the House virtually intact.
There were concessions, to be sure. The program was trimmed about $400 million. The control of community action programs was shifted to city halls and county courthouses.
But, for the most part, the program was held intact against repeated Republican efforts to dismantle the anti-poverty agency, the Office of Economic opportunity.
Coalition Retained
Most of the concessions had been made in committee to lure needed Southern Democratic votes in turning back the Republicans. But even then, painstaking work went into keeping together such an unlikely coalition of conservative and liberal Democrats.
For months, Mr. Perkins wandered around the House chamber and the Democratic cloakroom, placating some Democratic liberals unhappy with the concessions and assuring Southern Democrats that the concessions made the program more politically palatable to them.
“Boys, I need your help.” He told Southerners.
He got it.
He is an unobtrusive, unsophisticated country lawyer. His tastes are simple, his clothes are usually a little rumpled. He is conscientious, often working far into the night.
He commands an almost worshipful following in his 23-county Congressional district, one of the poorest in the nation. Frequently he drives all night from Washington to tour the lonely hollows and villages and hillside farms of the Appalachian region he calls home.
Born 55 years ago (Oct. 12, 1912) on a farm just outside a small town called Hindman in Knott County, Ky., Carl Perkins got his law degree in Louisville at the Jefferson School of Law and then went back home to practice law.
He became commonwealth attorney four years later served in the Kentucky General Assembly and then became Knott County attorney.
In 1948, when the Congressional seat became vacant in midterm, he was picked for the job by Governor Earl Clements. He has won every election since.
Genuine Liberal
A genuine liberal, probably the most liberal politician in Kentucky, Mr. Perkins is one of the staunchest Administration supporters in Congress.
During the last two years, when most of President Johnson’s Great Society programs were born, Mr. Perkins voted with the Administration 95 percent of the time.
He is the most persistent education advocate in Congress. For years, he has pressed for general Federal aid for school construction, and he plans to renew that fight next year.
A serious, earnest man, he avoids Washington’s cocktail circuit.
He is married to the former Verna Johnson, a first grade teacher in a Washington school, and they have one son, Carl Christopher, 13 years old. They own modest homes in suburban Alexandria and on the outskirts of Hindman, a typical Eastern Kentucky town that is just four blocks long.
His one hobby, aside from politics, is horseback riding. Last year, he sheepishly appeared in the House with his arm in a sling. He had broken it in a tumble from a horse.

Works Cited

Perkins, Carl Dewey. “Leaders in Poverty Fight.” November 16, 1968. Print.

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