VALLEY OF VISION: The TVA Years by Martha Munzer


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One of Martha Munzer's Pockets of Hope (1967) was a quietly radical rebirth in rural west Tennessee; here the same concern for people and land, plus the testimony of doers and done to, results in a recreation in depth of the entire Tennessee Valley transformation. With the background: Indian respect for nature vs. settler exploitation; agricultural prosperity of the 1830s and 40s, Civil War devastation, sharecropping and tenantry superseding plantations; one-crop and row-planting and indiscriminate lumbering leading to erosion, thence to flooding--so that by the 1920s and 30s the farmers were destitute, the vulnerable mill and mine workers victimized, and all were cut off, physically and psychologically, from the rest of the U.S. Meanwhile the river remained unnavigable and uncontrollable, the World War I nitrate plants and power stations shut. Then two catastrophes--the 1927 flood and the Depression--and the advent of a conservation-minded President, FDR, brought George Norris' scheme for river development--flood control, generation and sale of electricity, navigation, irrigation--to fruition under the aegis of the TVA. Examined via vivid quotes are the process of relocation (of 13,500 families); the ""need to reconcile flood control (relatively empty reservoirs) with high power potential (full reservoirs); the ""merit system"" of hiring which benefited Negroes; the lift that came from electricity for illumination, radio, labor-saving devices (and the resistance by private utilities); reforestation and demonstration farming as stirring the grass roots. Only omission of the administrative character of the TVA vis a vis the federal and local governments keeps this from being a comprehensive study; it does convey a firm feel for the aims and import of the ongoing project.

Pub Date: May 16th, 1969
Publisher: Knopf