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AppalReD founder John Rosenberg joins Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky board of directors


AppalReD founder John Rosenberg, a retired poverty law attorney and Holocaust survivor who has dedicated his career to serving Appalachian communities, is the newest member of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky board of directors.

Rosenberg, 89, of Prestonsburg, will serve a three-year, renewable term. He currently is a member of the Foundation’s Community Advisory Council, which serves as a community link and adviser to the Foundation’s Board of Directors. He also was involved in the creation of the Foundation.

John Rosenberg

“John’s entire career has been about stepping up for others, often when no one else had the courage to do so,” said Brent Wright, M.D., a Glasgow physician and current Foundation board chair. “He has always stood firmly against the entrenched policies and deceitful practices that undermine the health and wellbeing of those who don’t have adequate resources to fight back. He becomes their voice so that their stories can be told.”

Rosenberg and his wife, Jean, came to Kentucky in 1970; he opened the state’s first Appalachian Research and Defense Fund (AppalReD) office to provide free legal services to the region’s poorest residents. AppalReD now serves 37 Eastern and South Central Kentucky counties through six offices. Rosenberg was the Kentucky AppalReD director for more than 31 years until he retired in 2002.

He also helped establish the Appalachian Citizen’s Law Center, a Whitesburg nonprofit that helps former coal miners and their families obtain black lung benefits, and served in leadership roles in the American Bar Association, the Kentucky Bar Association and the Kentucky Public Advocacy Commission. He has continued to serve the people of Appalachia since his retirement in a variety of projects and board memberships, and is the recipient of numerous awards for his lifelong dedication to lifting up those in poverty.

Before arriving in Kentucky, Rosenberg was a trial attorney and section chief in the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice. He was responsible for several high-profile cases including the first trial under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in Selma. He also was heavily involved in the investigation and trial preparation for the case involving three murdered civil rights workers that inspired the 1988 film “Mississippi Burning.”

Rosenberg first came to America in 1940, having lived in the pre-World War II German city of Magdeburg with his Jewish parents and younger brother. It was on the night that became known as Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, that 7-year-old Hans, as he was originally named, and his family were forced from their home by Nazi soldiers and their synagogue destroyed. His father was arrested shortly thereafter, and taken to Buchenwald concentration camp with 125 other Jewish men from Magdeburg.

Although about 25 did not survive, the remainder including Rosenberg’s father, were released after 16 days. The family was then ordered to leave the country, and ended up in a detention camp in Holland for a year before boarding a ship that brought them to the United States.

Rosenberg graduated from Duke University and served in the U.S. Air Force. He used the G.I. Bill to earn his law degree from the University of North Carolina in 1962.

From Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky

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