Madisonville — which grew to prominence in the early 20th century as a rail hub and coal mining center — also prospered because of tobacco, its traditional product.
But one of its native sons emerged from the Great Depression with a moniker that didn’t bring joy to the city. Ruby Laffoon, the governor of Kentucky from 1931 to 1935, confronted the state’s economic difficulties by advocating for an unpopular sales tax. After that split his Democratic Party — and his own administration — Laffoon was dubbed “the terrible Turk from Madisonville.”
But Laffoon also played a role in popular culture. Among his legacies was appointing more than 2,300 Kentucky Colonels, the highest honor bestowed for individuals in recognition of noteworthy accomplishments and outstanding service to a community, state or the nation.
One of his Colonels was Harlan Sanders, who earned the distinction for his delectable chicken. Seriously.
But while Laffoon brought mixed reviews to Madisonville, history treats native son Elder Watson Diggs differently. One of just 10 African-American students enrolled at Indiana University in 1911, Diggs — unhappy with the treatment of the black students — founded Kappa Alpha Psi, which now has 150,000 members worldwide.