The Great Depression
The TVA and the Relocation of Mattie Randolph
The Tennessee Valley Authority Act of May 1933 was both ambitious and controversial from its very beginnings as part of FDR’s New Deal. Taming the devastating floods of the Tennessee River, bringing needed improvements in agricultural practices to the valley, and electrifying much of the rural south were noble objectives but many insisted that the sacrifices required for this progress were not worth the benefits. Government involvement in electrical power production and the social planning of new communities to support construction and eventual operation of TVA facilities smacked of socialism and those politicians and businessmen opposed to FDR and his New Deal attacked the project from this perspective. Others less fortunate on the economic scale saw the required sacrifice from a different perspective.
To provide flood control and power production for the Tennessee Valley called for the damming of long stretches of the river, placing thousands of acres of Tennessee farmland under water. The legislation creating the TVA gave the project the right of eminent domain. Landowners would have to move but the government would pay them a "fair" price for the land and assist them in their relocation.
By the 1930s, decades of over-use had depleted much of the soil of the Tennessee Valley and rural poverty was common but nonetheless, these farms had belonged to these same families for generations. Some people did not want to leave nor enjoyed the thought that their family farm would be under water for near eternity.
The two primary sources deal with one family's refusal to leave their land during the construction of the Norris Dam in 1936. The reasons for the refusal may not have been representative of all those relocated but a loose interpretation of the Mattie Randolph’s story became part of the plot of the 1960 movie, Wild River, about the construction of the TVA starring Montgomery Cliff and Lee Remick.
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