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The TVA and the Race Problem

When the civil service examinations were first given by the TVA in the twelve counties round about Norris, only 1.9 per cent of those who qualified for jobs were Negroes. In these same twelve counties Negroes comprise exactly 7.1 per cent of the total population. Thus it looked as though colored labor was to suffer. TVA authorities insisted that they were helpless to rectify matters since they were compelled to choose their employees from among the people who had qualified by examination. Negro leaders claimed, however, that the reason so small a proportion of their population had qualified was that they had either not even been told of the examinations or else had been given to understand by the native whites that there was no need for them to apply since the whole project was for the advantage of the white man. There were some facts which lent credibility to this charge. For example, TVA authorities did not, and still do not, plan to use any Negro labor on the building of the Norris Dam itself….

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Letters from the Field: Introduction

We spent the morning in conference, took a quick look at the transient setup–thousands came here looking for work, you see, and present quite a problem–and spent the afternoon looking over Muscle Shoals–Wilson dam and power house, Wheeler dam, the houses they are building there for the engineers and their families, the construction camp, and so on. It’s all on such a huge scale! But darned interesting. Always in the background, though, is this dreadful relief business– dull, hopeless, deadening. God–when are we going to get out of it? As nearly as I can figure it out, most of the relief families in Tennessee are rural, living on sub-marginal or marginal land. What are we going to do with them? And, so low are their standards of living, that, once on relief, low as it is, they want to stay there the rest of their lives. Gosh! TVA is now employing some 9,500 people. But it doesn’t even make a dent! . . .

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Letters from the Field: June 11, 1934

On this trip I’ve tried not to be too preoccupied with relief. I’ve tried to find out what the people as a whole are thinking about–people who are at work. I carry away the impression that all over the area, from Knoxville, Tennessee, to Tupelo, Mississippi, and on up to Memphis and Nashville, people are in a pretty contented, optimistic frame of mind. They just aren’t thinking about the Depression any more. They feel that we are on our way out and toward any problems that have to be solved before we get out their attitude seems to be, “Let Roosevelt do it.”

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Letters from the Field: June 6, 1934

Nearly 10,000 men–about 9,500–are at work in the Valley now, at Norris and Wheeler dams, on various clearing and building projects all over the area. Thousands of them are residents of the Valley, working five and a half hours a day, five days a week, for a really LIVING wage. Houses are going up for them to live in–better houses than they have ever had in their lives before. And in their leisure time they are studying–farming, trades, the art of living, preparing themselves for the fuller lives they are to lead in that Promised Land. You are probably saying, “Oh, come down to earth!” But that’s the way the Tennessee Valley affects one these days.

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Success Stories—Work Relief Style

IN DECEMBER 1932, A DISCONSOLATE YOUNG MAN, TWO OR three years out of college, sat on a park bench and watched his big toe come through his best shoe, while he tried to screw up courage to apply for relief. Two years later he was the executive head of an insurance enterprise handling millions of dollars annually, working in close conjunction with important medical and educational institutions. He, himself, has won an international reputation in his special field. His name would be known to many Survey Graphic readers.

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Homesteaders—New Style

Farm Security Administration’s experiment in resettling southern tenants on land of their own, here described by a recent visitor to several projects, demonstrates that, given a boost by government, America’s poorest pioneers can rise from relief to self-support.

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Pea-Pickers’ Child (1935)

Written by Lucretia Penny, appearing in Survey Graphic, 1935. “The death notice in the county paper was not more than two inches in depth but it had, nevertheless, its modest headline: PEA-PICKERS CHILD DIES. Already there had been three deaths in the pea-pickers’ camp: a Mexican had been murdered, stabbed; a child had died of burns; a baby had died of what his young mother referred to as “a awful fever in his little stomach.” And now the shallow headlines spoke of Zetilla Kane, the seventh child and only daughter of Joe and Jennie Bell Kane.”

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