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Kentucky State Representative Charles Booker tells the improbable story of his journey from one of the poorest neighborhoods in the country to a political career forging new alliances among forgotten communities across the New South and beyond.
Charles Booker grew up in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Kentucky, living in the largely segregated West End of Louisville. Faith and love were everything in his family, but material comforts were scarce. The electricity was sometimes shut off. His mother often went hungry so her son could eat. Even after he graduated from law school, Booker rationed the insulin he took for diabetes. Determined to build a world in which poverty and racism would not plague future generations, he charted his own course into Kentucky politics, a world dominated by the myth of an urban-rural divide, and controlled by the formidable Republican establishment.
In this stirring account, Booker unfolds his journey from the heart of Louisville to the deepest reaches of Kentucky’s rural landscapes, reflecting the journey America itself must make on the way to a progressive future. Robbed of multiple family members by gun violence, Booker found the roots of a system built to fail him and his neighbors in everything from the hypocrisy of elected officials to the structural racism embedded in the state’s budget.
Yet it wasn’t until his unlikely appointment to the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources that he understood the transformative power of the issues that bound his family with those in rural Appalachia. In coal country, he met citizens who, like those in the West End, suffered from extreme isolation, for whom fresh food and economic stability were scarce, who lacked the resources to overcome their cynicism about change. Through his work as the youngest Black state legislator in Kentucky, Booker built an unprecedented alliance between the hood and the holler. This coalition was the basis for a thrilling grassroots Senate campaign that nearly stunned the nation, putting Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul on notice that the days of business-as-usual were over.
From the Hood to the Holler is both a moving coming-of-age story and an urgent political intervention—a much-needed blueprint for how equity and racial justice might transcend partisan divisions in Kentucky, throughout the South, and across America.
About the Author
Charles Booker represented the 43rd District in the Kentucky House of Representatives. A graduate of the University of Louisville and its Brandeis School of Law, Booker is a Bingham fellow and a Bloomberg Innovation Delivery Team fellow. He is the founder of the advocacy group Hood to the Holler, which continues the work of his campaign, building bridges between previously siloed communities.