AS a small boy, it was my duty each evening
to carry in the firewood and to fill the wood-box by the kitchen
stove. In order to avoid monotony, I varied the task by different
ways of piling the wood. Sometimes it would be in neat horizontal
layers; sometimes on end; sometimes the sticks would be matched
as to size and length.
Let me do something of the
sort in this series of articles through which I hope to share
some of our adventures in the Tennessee Valley. They will be
in the nature of an informal log of the work in process; less
of a log, however, in another sense, than armfuls of situations,
encounters, possibilities, plans and developments. The instalments
will be written as we go along, but are less likely to stick
to the calendar than to follow the bench-marks of our planningto
employ a term we use in civil engineering when we mark and record
the elevation of points for future reference. I shall draw on
letters, memoranda, notes of staff meetings, reports and addresses.
In Antioch Notes, I was able
to share periodically with faculty, students, graduates and
friends of the college the stream of impulse and discovery that
have gone into our educational experiment there, so that we
had the reinforcement of their understanding and criticism.
It is in much the same spirit that I shall try to put before
one group of Americans outside the Valley the running story
of what is going forward, and invite the interest of your readers.
WHEN the President proposed
the organization of the Tennessee Valley Authority his action
was not in response to a happy thought without relation to his
program as a whole. Rather, he saw it as a normal and integral
part of that program. Some of the policies he proposed must
of necessity be worked out on a national scale, such as the
banking system and the NRA. There are others which can best
be dealt with on a smaller scale before giving them national
application, or which have regional variations and can best
have regional solutions.
The President sees the Valley
Authority as a means for displacing haphazard, unplanned and
unintegrated social and industrial development by introducing
increasing elements of order, design and forethought. Some problems
of other regions are absent here. For instance, with only half
of one percent of the population foreign-born, the issue of
making Americans out of immigrants is not present. Other problems
like soil erosion are more acute than elsewhere. Yet in the
large, the problems of the Tennessee Valley Authority are the
problems of America.
There are more than forty thousand
square miles in the area drained by the Tennessee River. Its
watershed overlaps seven states, the larger part in Tennessee,
next Alabama, and then North Carolina. There are steep mountainsides
where corn is hoed; and flat reaches of bottom-lands in the
cotton belt. There are districts where, before the coming of
the auto, people lived their lives without ever seeing a Negro;
other districts where a third or half of the population are
of African stock. There are cities and towns built upon our
new industrialism; regions of up-to-date farming, and regions
which still lag in their isolation.
We can imagine Daniel Boone
in his time sitting down at one of the fords of the river to
discuss things with an Indian hunter; imagine him saying, "There
is ten times as much wealth here as you are getting out of it."
The red man would not have believed him; he could not have envisioned
the possibilities that the people of the region have realized
in the last century. With no element of romancing we can say
today, "There is ten times as much potential wealth in this
region as we are realizing." We must endeavor to see those possibilities
and see that they are realizedto determine where the waste
is and eliminate it; and to transmute that wealth into well-being.
That, I think, constitutes social and economic planning. To
some extent it means legislation and legislative programs, but
it also means a change of outlook and a change of spirit.
BY waste I mean the spilled
energy of the streams themselves that has been allowed to run
unused. I mean the farming methods in the rolling uplands of
our southern states that are causing the soil to wash away so
fast that, in the very real sense of wealth in the soil, the
country is far poorer than it was in the time of Daniel Boone.
Here in the Tennessee Valley we see evidence of waste in the
million or more lots plotted by real-estate promoters within
reach of Muscle Shoals and sold to unsuspecting persons; and
in the ghosts of old lumber towns that mark the regions where
the primeval forest growth was sawed and sent out with no forethought
of later tree crops.
For this is a region where
raw materials have been handled chiefly as just raw materials
and exported as suchforests as timber, minerals as oresa
country to exploit rather than a country to build. By waste
I mean, also, the useless duplication of local government; our
old units dating back to when the court must be reached on horseback
down the branch or over sticky clay roads. In some counties
all the work in the court house can be done in one half day
a week. A quarter as many counties would be enough today, and
a large tax burden would be relieved. I once asked a Swiss why
certain unprogressive methods were being used on a construction
job in the Alps. He replied, "It is hard for a man to think
large in a small country." Thinking and planning in terms of
a rivershed may help us in getting away from petty issues and
in setting up more vital human objectives.
But especially I mean those
wastes of the energies, ambitions and hopes of vast numbers
of men and women which are almost killed through lack of opportunity.
The Tennessee Valley contains twice as many people in rural
areas as are necessary for agricultural work. It should be possible
to develop local industries with the help of cheap power, that
will enable those communities to manufacture what they would
like to buy. With an intelligent and ambitious population, with
great natural resources, and with cheap power, human ingenuity
should bring to an end the present widespread want and idleness.
Greatest of all wastes is that which comes when people fail
to see the great possibilities and opportunities around them,
and when, in that failure to see what might be, they resign
themselves to things as they are.
The elimination of these wastes
cannot be achieved overnight. That fact lies back of our warnings
that people should not now come to the Tennessee Valley region
to seek employment, or to find Utopia. By mid-fall we had received,
altogether, more than a hundred thousand applications, about
half of them from persons in the Valley area. In some of the
counties 75 percent of the population is unemployed and on public
relief. The relief facilities have been under great strain.
Vast numbers of Valley people had gone to Detroit, Cleveland,
Cincinnati and Pittsburgh during good times, and came home only
when they had no money. Hundreds of thousands are in idleness.
By working day and night and using four shifts during the twenty-four
hours, we are employing about two thousand men on the early
Norris Dam construction. The Joe Wheeler Dam is giving work
to more, and so are our housing enterprises and other outlying
During recent months the TVA
spent about a million and a half dollars for equipment, but
about three quarters of this went to Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago,
Pittsburgh, New York and other manufacturing centers. It has
been spent for steam shovels, cableways, structural steel, copper
wire, electric pumps and dynamite. The building of a modern
dam is largely done in distant factories, and such unemployment
relief as is afforded by the new Tennessee structures is thus
nationwide. Every man employed in Tennessee makes work for two
men outside. But under present industrial organization government
work alone cannot bring back prosperity. It can only be like
the starter in an automobile that gets the engine going. The
TVA hopes to start this region to self sustained productiveness.