Valley of the Tennessee, 1944


♪ [music] ♪ More than 300 years ago, the first pioneers
crossed the oceans to a new world. A promise, they called it, the promise of
a land where a man could build his own house, farm his own acres, raise his children in
freedom. They carved from a wilderness an empire of
agriculture and industry. They set for themselves new and higher standards
of living. And yet in one of the great river valleys
of America, something went wrong. ♪ [music] ♪ In the Tennessee Valley, three centuries later,
the descendants of the pioneers were a neglected people living in a ruined land. For these children, the hope and
the promise were dead. For them, the only future was poverty, ignorance,
drudgery, the struggle to scratch a bare living from the reluctant soil. ♪ [music] ♪ Even the older men had forgotten that the
valley had once been bright with promise and with hope. Horace Higgins was one of the many who had
given up the fight. ♪ [music] ♪ “What’s the use?” he said. “You fill up those gullies and the first rain
washes it away. It’s the same with all the land around here. It may have been good land once,
but it’s bad land now.” ♪ [music] ♪ “Bad land, hopeless land,” Henry Clark wondered,
“Erosion, the scientists call it, the eating away of the soil.” A destruction which began innocently when
the early settlers cut down the forests. When the farmers, out of ignorance, plowed
straight furrows down the hillsides. ♪ [music] ♪ Destruction from the sky. ♪ [music] ♪ This is the way it was year after year in
a forgotten part of the United States. This was the havoc caused by greed and neglect
in men working alone and unaided against the forces of nature. Farms, towns, industries smashed, hundreds
drowned, thousands made homeless. The energies of the river running to waste,
the energies of the people, too. Henry Clark’s trouble was the trouble of three
million Americans in the Tennessee Valley. It became the direct concern of a 130 million
Americans in the 48 states. A challenge to democracy and its ability to
care for its own. The valley of the Tennessee River lies in
the southeastern United States. It covers an area of 40,000 square miles,
nearly as large as England. It was a problem of reconstruction: reconstruction
of land, reconstruction of people. Democracy met the test. It found the men to supervise the job. James P. Pope, United States senator from
the West. Harcourt Morgan, President of the
University of Tennessee who had worked out an agricultural program for the whole area. David Lilienthal, Administrator and Champion
of Legislation for Cooperative Electric Power. George Norris, a great American Statesman
who long had dreamed of regional planning of setting up a national experiment in one
region which could serve as a yardstick for every region. This was the plan, to chain the
river to a series of giant dams checking the floods ♪ [music] ♪ To open it to navigation from its mouth to
its head water. ♪ [music] ♪ To give the farmers the benefit of modern
science and research. To help them control the water on their land
and restore the fertility of the soil, to reforest millions of acres on the ravaged
hillsides. To exploit the mineral resources of the area. To use the electric power generated by the dams to develop and rehabilitate industry in the cities. To electrify the farms to a rural cooperative. Above all, to prove that human problems can
be solved by reason, science, and education. The Tennessee Valley was to be pioneered again,
but this time, to be developed, not plundered. This time not for the benefit of a few, but
for the many who live there. These were the new pioneers. The architects, the research chemists, the
agricultural experts, the power men, the designers of hydroelectric dams. Their method was to control nature, not by
defying her as in the wasteful past, but by understanding her and harnessing
her in the service of humanity. ♪ [music] ♪ In May 1933, a new chapter was written in
American public policy when the plan was brought before the representatives of the people in congress. An Act was passed creating the TVA, the
Tennessee Valley Authority. President Roosevelt told the nation that the
project would set an example of planning not for this generation alone, but for all the
generations to come. Then things began to happen in the valley. [explosion sound] ♪ [music] ♪ For many of the valley people, the plan was
an intrusion. ♪ [music] ♪ Years of isolation, ignorance, and bigotry
die hard. They said, “Let the government men do things
with machines over the mountain. It’s none of our business.” ♪ [music] ♪ But youth was more inquisitive and the pioneer
spirit was still alive. Over the mountain was something new, big,
exciting. ♪ [music] ♪ The dam builders, 200,000 of them and all,
4,000 on this one project. Valley farmers and miners, mountaineers and city workers. To them, this was more than a job, they had
a stake in what they were doing. They were building for themselves and for
their children, for the future of the valley. ♪ [music] ♪ As the months passed, the farmers started
coming to the dams to see for themselves. ♪ [music] ♪ They were impressed by the magnitude of the work,
but even the open minded ones like Henry Clark couldn’t understand at first
just what it all had to do with them. ♪ [music] ♪ It was the business of John Warden, a TVA Agricultural
Representative, to answer that. “It has everything to do with the farmers,” he said. “The dams are just a beginning. Without the fullest cooperation of the people
on the land, they’re worthless.” ♪ [music] ♪ There were small meetings up and down the valley. John Warden told the farmers, “10 inches of
topsoil supports all the life on earth. Every drop of rain that falls on your fields
carries away a bit of this soil. Every time it rains, the gullies, the scars
on your fields, grow deeper and wider. Every year, the precious topsoil goes faster. The undersoil is hard and sterile. The water which should have soaked into your
land runs off uselessly. Your topsoil travels with it uselessly down
to the delta of the river. Millions of tons of good farming soil lost
forever blowing away with the wind. All this waste isn’t necessary, it can be
stopped. Your land can be saved if we work together. And you’ve seen the dams but they’re only
part of the plan. The rest of it is up to you. If we’re to succeed, all of us, you must learn
to stop the erosion of your own land. The TVA was created for you, to teach you
new methods, to provide you with fertilizers to restore your soil. The land is yours, the dams are yours, the
whole TVA is yours. We want you to use it. This is how you can become a part of the plan. We need volunteers to try out the new methods
to prove that they are the right ones. Thousands of farmers have already volunteered,
how about you? ♪ [music] ♪ [explosion sound] ♪ [music] ♪ It isn’t easy for men bound by habit and tradition
to change their whole way of thinking. John Warden knew the farmers of the isolated
back valleys. He had talked to hundreds of groups like this
and he knew they needed time. ♪ [music] ♪ In signing with the TVA, Henry Clark became what
was called a test demonstration farmer. ♪ [music] ♪ His farm and thousands of others were to serve
as laboratories where the new methods could be tested and observed by all. ♪ [music] ♪ Using a terracer made available by the TVA,
John Warden showed Henry the principles of contour farming. ♪ [music] ♪ This was a radical departure from the old
method of square farming. ♪ [music] ♪ Plowing by contour, Henry learned to follow
the curve of the land. ♪ [music] ♪ No longer could the water run down straight
furrows, the curves held it on the land. And to put life into the exhausted soil,
Henry used a new phosphate fertilizer developed by the chemists from ore found in the region. ♪ [music] ♪ The first season, Henry’s chief crop was clover. This was to provide the soil with nitrogen
and revitalize the land, but it wasn’t a cash crop. Henry had been warned but still when he made
up his accounts at the end of the year, he couldn’t help but feel, well, he sort of set
his heart on that new tractor. This was the crucial period, the first season. The TVA man had known it would be. They were sure of their equipment and methods,
but human minds and emotions were another thing. It was a hard decision for Henry Clark whether
he should go on, but he was the descendant of pioneers, of men who had taken a chance and
who had known that their salvation lay in cooperation. The old spirit of the pioneers was reawakened,
the dam builders, the farmers, the machines began to work as one. ♪ [music] ♪ By the next year, there were results. Henry Clark had the best crop of tobacco ever
grown in the county. ♪ [music] ♪ He was sending substantial quantities of food
to market and giving his neighbors plenty of food for thought. They came to see the new fertilizer, the new
methods, and the student became a teacher. In the Tennessee Valley that year, 30,000
other demonstration farmers became teachers too. For the next year’s harvest, Henry
and his neighbors had a threshing machine especially designed by the TVA experts for
this valley. Each group of farmers had a machine and each
farmer had an equal right to its use. No longer was it one man alone against the
drought and the flood, for the first time, they were acting together cooperatively for
a common purpose. And even more important, a change was beginning
to come into their thinking. For the first time, they were thinking in
terms of each other, what they could accomplish together by working together. With new machinery, new methods, with a definite
plan to follow, a plan that embraced them all, the farmers worked and the land responded. ♪ [music] ♪ When Horris Higgins saw Henry riding his new
tractor, he began to understand the real meaning of TVA. That the individual, through cooperation with
his fellows, becomes a more important individual. As John Warden says, “When you develop people,
you have something permanent.” ♪ [music] ♪ The development of people is the first concern
of a democracy. In school, the children learn how to use the
things that were built for them. They learn how the dams work. Up in the mountains on the tributary streams,
high dams back up reservoirs against the time of drought releasing the water when it
is needed, holding it in check when the rains come. Down the Tennessee River itself, wide dams
control the water step by step. Instead of the alternate floods and drought,
water can now be dispatched as trains are dispatched on a railroad system. ♪ [music] ♪ These are the symbols of a nation’s constructive
energy: Douglas, Guntersville, Cherokee, Wilson, Pickwick Landing, Chickamauga, Hiwassee, Fontana,
Hales Bar, Watts Bar, Fort Loudon, Wheeler, Apalachia, Norris, built for and owned by
the people of the United States. ♪ [music] ♪ Day and night, in peace and war, the dams
work for the people. Power for the factories, power for new industry,
power to run a million machines, turning out aircrafts, tractors, textures, engine, shoe,
fertilizer, aluminum. Keep an abundant power to light the cities
and villages. Power for the farmers, power that can be converted
to 100 homely uses. Power working tirelessly, endlessly, raising
standards, reducing drudgery. Power in the hands of the people. ♪ [music] ♪ The children of the Tennessee Valley have
recaptured the hope of their grandfathers. They have learned that the TVA is indeed a
yardstick, a measure of what men can build in peace. A measure of the stature of a new and better
world. A world with dignity, work, and hope for all. A world a child can walk into. ♪ [music] ♪

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