History Monday #98

The fact is, they’re flooding this valley so they can hydro-electric up the whole durned state.

Uh-oh, Congress passed another big government bill that won’t really help financially strapped people. Yes, those are recent headlines, but they could also be applied to today’s #HistoryMonday event as well. Although, the historical event we’ll discuss was much more widely accepted at its inception and even today.

A Tennessee Valley Authority sign at the Pres. Roosevelt Museum

On this day in 1833, Pres. Franklin Roosevelt signs Tennessee Valley Authority Act. This act was a hallmark of New Deal programs. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was a connected effort of public utility companies to be administered by the federal government.

The Tennessee Valley which comprises the states of Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee,  and Kentucky, as well as slivers of North Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia. These states are all part of the Tennessee River watershed which would provide much needed resources for hydroelectric plants.

Building hydroelectric plants and a utility commission in the South during the Great Depression was a way to assist communities that were suffering even more than other regions of the country. As much of the South was already impoverished before the Great Depression, the financial crisis from the Stock Market and banks only compounded the problems.

While seen as part of Pres. Roosevelt’s New Deal program, the TVA Act was authored by Sen. George Norris (R-NE). Sen. Norris had previously blocked a private utility effort by Henry Ford some 12 years earlier. In hopes of preventing further private utility companies that charged unfair prices for their consumers, Sen. Norris authored the Muscle Shoals bill in 1931, but it was vetoed as being a socialist idea by Pres. Hoover. Pres. Roosevelt was not as opposed to Sen. Norris’s efforts, and had campaigned for public utility commissions to be overseen by the federal government prior to his election.

fast forward

The TVA was originally headquartered at Muscle Shoals, AL but would eventually move to its present location in Knoxville, TN. A three-member board appointed by the President administered the authority: Harcourt Morgan, Arthur E. Morgan, and David Lilienthal. Under their leadership, Lilienthal became known as Mr. TVA for his efforts to maintain the commission and to be its public face.

During the initial building of the hydroelectric plants, much of the power produced was directed to aluminum factories owned by Alcoa and others. These plants were necessary for the building of airplanes and other weapons for the war effort. By the time the Fontana Dam was built, much of its electric output was used at Oak Ridge, TN for the uranium enrichment process needed as part of the Manhattan Project.

As power demands grew after World War II, the TVA changed to a broader electric utility portfolio. Adding coal power plants became necessary in the 50’s & 60’s and this became their primary electric-producing method. Keeping their costs low and promoting competition, a handful of power plants were built to use nuclear power, but with skepticism of nuclear reactions, this never really became a primary method.

Of course, as concern grew over the environmental impact over coal, the TVA has retired many of those plants in accordance with EPA regulations. They have in the last decade purchased equipment for wind farms. Also, in attempt to be more in touch with the 21st Century, the TVA has also recently added an in-house energy infrastructure cybersecurity panel. This panel oversees social media and IT programs to prevent threats to energy by cyberterrorists.

Many other rural electric cooperatives aspire to have the efficacy and fame of the TVA, but much of those attributes are reserved only in their regions. Private utility companies also exist today and are not always appreciated for their costs to consumers, but government regulations try to keep those prices in check.

 

The TVA has also been a source for tourism. You can visit many of the sites used by the TVA today and learn more about their construction and their impact in the region. Additionally, museums include artwork form the TVA remembering their contributions.

Media has included the TVA as part of their efforts as well, Ronald Reagan was fired by General Electric for his criticism of the TVA for being a big government program that shouldn’t be celebrated. Given that General Electric used electricity from the TVA, this was a conflict of interest for them. A more recent and less-controversial media appearance features the TVA and their efforts from the Coen brothers 2000 film O Brother Where Art Thou? The film includes the public utility as a timing foil for the protagonist who has to recover stored treasure before his house is flooded by the TVA.

Have you ever visited a TVA site?

History Monday #72

Hotty Toddy! History is made in college admissions

History in the Civil Rights Movement is no stranger to the Hospitality State, and today’s #HistoryMonday is about less than hospitable conditions provided by the state’s flagship institution of higher learning. Let’s delve into the event and the results following.

James Meredith, accompanied by U.S. Marshals while entering the University of Mississippi

On this day in 1962, James H. Meredith attempts to enroll at the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) along with U.S. Marshals. Federal reinforcements in the form of the U.S. Marshalls had become necessary after resistance from university officials and the state’s governor blocked Meredith’s enrollment at Ole Miss.

A former serviceman in the U.S. Air Force, Meredith applied and was accepted to the University of Mississippi in 1962, but when the registrar discovered his race the admission was rescinded. Meredith was still determined to gain admission.

Meredith had previously tried without success in to enroll at the university. After the second refusal by the university, Meredith filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, alleging that the university had rejected him only because of his race. Eventually, after a series of appeals that ruled the state had no right to refuse Meredith’s enrollment, the state appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court uphold the lower courts’ rulings and ordered Ole Miss to admit James Meredith. The District Court ordered the Board of Trustees for Ole Miss to admit Meredith on September 13, 1962.

Facing a potential election loss in November of that year, Gov. Ross Barnett boasted, “no school will be integrated in Mississippi while I am your governor.” Barnett along with the state legislature had already been planning to prevent Meredith’s enrollment by falsifying claims of voter fraud against Meredith. The criminal charges of these voter fraud would prevent Meredith from enrolling based on this alleged criminal activity.

Barnett, and his Lieutenant Governor both faced federal criminal charges of contempt on September 28 for their actions to prevent Meredith from enrolling. If they refused to comply by October 2, they could be arrested and pay $10,000 and $5,000 a day, respectively.

In hopes to expedite Meredith’s admission and avoid the fines, U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and Pres. Kennedy conducted calls with Barnett to secretly admit Meredith but allow Barnett to appear unflappable in the public.

Attorney Gen. Kennedy ordered 500 U.S. Marshalls to Oxford, MS to assist Meredith with his enrollment. The Marshalls’ presence would help perpetuate an appearance of Federal overreach which the Governor would have to necessarily comply with.

Unfortunately, this appearance of the Marshalls in Oxford was not dissimilar to Civil War troops marching through the South. Residents unhappy that Ole Miss was being desegregated and Federal troops were invading the South and its way of life began to riot. Two men were killed in the midst of this violence. In addition to Marshalls, another 3,000 federal soldiers were dispatched by Pres. Kennedy to end the rioting. The next day on October 1, 1962, after troops took control, Meredith became the first African-American student to enroll at the University of Mississippi.

fast forward

The admission of James Meredith is regarded as a pivotal moment in the history of Civil Rights in the United States. Compared to other Civil Rights pioneers like Rosa Parks, Meredith helped other African-Americans take courage to desegregate other universities in the South. The Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka had inspired Meredith to pursue desegregation as the Supreme Court had overruled the Plessy v. Ferguson case that promoted separate but equal facilities.

Meredith graduated from Ole Miss in 1963 with a degree in political science. As part of his activism at Ole Miss, Meredith would go on to help protests through the Sixties partnering with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Stokely Carmichael.

Anniversaries of this date have been held in 2002 and 2012. During the 40th anniversary, officials erected a statue of Meredith in the Lyceum-The Circle Historic District at the center of the campus. The district was designated as a National Historic Landmark for these events in October of 2008.

Ole Miss continues to rehabilitate its image and its conduct towards African-Americans. The school’s mascot while named the Rebels commemorates the Confederate forces during the Civil War. Attempts have been made to remove the mascot, Col. Reb and replace it with Rebel Black Bear and Tony Landshark, but fans are reluctant to embrace the new mascots. Additionally, the school band’s playing of Dixie has also elicited negative responses from critics as well. Due to the historical significance of the song in minstrel shows, these critics argued it should be removed from the band’s repertoire. Use of the “Battle Flag” by fans and students at ball games has also been banned for similar reasons.

Hopefully, Mississippi will eventually move forward and live up to its Hospitality State nickname and overcome much of its historic resistance to African-American equality. Ole Miss has even elected its first African-American Student Body President a few years ago which bodes well for the University to make such steps. Heritage Tourism efforts in the state to commemorate Civil Rights challenges along with the popularity of HGTV’s Home Town in Laurel are also drawing renewed travel to Mississippi.

Will Mississippi ever shed its negative reputation towards African-Americans?      

Current Event Friday #73

Incidents of racism are making the rounds in the news

There’s only one race, and that’s the human race. We all like to believe that this is true and so many others believe that in our country. While it’s true that at our founding as a nation we had an untenable relationship between White Europeans and people of color, but we have progressed since that time. Sadly, some insensitive people have proven we could do better. Three such incidents of racism in the news recently are today’s topic of #CurrentEventFriday.

Image result for race relations

Locally, the most obvious incident was the Ku Klux Klan’s Labor Day Kookout in Madison, IN. A quaint little small town famous for the Independence Day regatta attracts several dozen Klansmen who dare to proclaim the superiority of the white race. As the group has waned in influence, the numbers have dwindled while the counter-protestors have grown significantly. This is a promising sign that more are opposed to racism and refuting it. Madison overlooks Trimble County, KY so there is at least some historical tendencies of ‘copperheads’ in the area. During the Civil War, ‘copperheads’ were Southern loyalists living in Union states in the North. Hopefully there will come a time when the Kookout gets cancelled from lack of interest.

Not as local, but somewhat nearby is an arrest of a University of Illinois student. The alleged perpetrator is a sophomore at the campus. After this student and another left a noose in an elevator in a residence hall, the other student came forward and confessed that their friend had indeed placed a noose in the elevator. After the student was arrested and charged with a hate crime for leaving the noose, the university dismissed the student. A similar story occurred during my own undergrad when parts of a pig carcass were found near an African-American fraternity house because another fraternity discarded the carcass carelessly after a hog roast. No hate crime charges were filed since no malicious intent was able to be assigned to the guilty parties.

I posted a short blurb and a news story that followed on my Facebook earlier in the week, but it’s still worth discussing. A couple in Mississippi looked into renting an outdoor event space for their wedding but were refused as the groom was African-American while the bride is white. When the owners of the event space were questioned about the refusal, they argued that both gay marriages and interracial marriages were against their Christian race, or Christian belief. As word broke about the event space and Social Media critics attacked the ratings of the venue and commented on the Facebook page, the owners quickly deleted the business page. I know that gay marriage is a hot-button issue and religious freedom bills allow business owners not to violate their conscience, the argument for these bills is seemingly about endorsing behavior not natural traits. That’s at least my interpretation of homosexuality, and I would suspect many others. Sadly, the argument about a Christian Race alludes to rhetoric of Klansmen that the White Christian Race is under attack. It’s also not completely surprising that Mississippi is still struggling with racism. The site of the Emmitt Till Murder as well as the 1963 Civil Rights murders the state is seemingly the poster child for racism. The state is making at least some progress as the mayor and town council in the town where the venue is located condemned the venue and distanced themselves with the racist undertones. Yet, the state representative for the district including the town of Boonville where the venue is located has not issued a statement. This same representative co-sponsored the latest religious freedom act in Mississippi that protects business owners from being penalized for refusing gay marriage ceremonies. Pretty safe to assume that pressure will be brought to bear on the state representative, and he’ll have to make some sort of statement.

I for one think that we have made progress as a nation since the Civil Rights Era, but we are still divided by race. Electing an African-American man as president not once but twice is to me fruit of diversity appreciation in our country following the tumultuous Civil Rights Era. Seemingly, groups like Black Lives Matter that notice a racist devil around every corner tend to undermine progress while alt-right and White pride folks also give fuel to those determined to promote unity of will with diversity of thought and race.

Hopefully, as everyone can recognize actual acts of racism perpetrated with evil intent rather than naivete about race relations that leads to misunderstanding will move us where we should be as a country. If we are a nation where all people are created equal regardless of race, gender, age, or religion then we need to be able to agree on what is prejudice, bigotry, and discrimination. Even more hopefully acts of racism also fade away and we do become the nation we aspired to be from our founding.

Are we improving with race relations in America?

History Monday #43

In addition to my birthday, it’s also an important day in Black History Month

Today is a bonus for historical events on this day for #HistoryMonday. First, from a purely self-indulgent point of view I was born on this day 34 years ago. Of course, I view this as significant but I know other far-reaching events are more worthy of mention. As part of Black History Month, it is worth celebrating Hiram Rhodes Revels on this day.
 
In Hiram Rhodes Revels, a Republican from Natchez, Mississippi, is sworn into the U.S. Senate, becoming the first African American Senator to serve in the Congress. Sen. Revels was sworn in two days after Mississippi was readmitted to statehood in the Union after Secession.
Hiram Rhodes Revels - Brady-Handy-(restored).png
Sen. Hiram Rhodes Revels
On January 20, 1870, the Mississippi legislature elected Revels to fill the Senate seat once held by Jefferson Davis, the former president of the Confederacy. The swearing in ceremony was the last step in the election process.
 
Revels attended Beech Grove Quaker Seminary in Indiana and Darke County Seminary in Ohio in 1844. Although his education was incomplete, he was ordained into the African Methodist Episcopal Church, at Allen Chapel, Terre Haute, Indiana, in 1845. Worth mentioning, the Church still stands and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. I first remember learning about Revels and his connection to Allen Chapel while in African-American Studies class at Indiana State University in Terre Haute. Props to Rev. Terry Clark and his approach to teaching African-American Studies.
 
Revels was appointed to preach to congregations after his stint in Terre Haute. Revels made stops in Illinois, Ohio, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee as a pastor. Revels was arrested and imprisoned in Missouri in 1854, “for preaching to negroes.”
 
Revels spent much of the Civil War helping form African American army regiments for the Union cause. He also plied his trade as a chaplain for the Union army given his theological training. After the War ended, Revels was assigned to Mississippi and became active in Reconstruction-era Southern politics.
 
Revels served one year in the Senate and accepted a position as the first president of Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Alcorn State University), a historically black college located in Mississippi.
 
fast forward
 
Sen. Revels along with other African-Americans during the Reconstruction Era were able to make progress in the House and Senate but never came close to proportional representation compared to the percentage of African-American population determined by census records. African-Americans elected to Congress in the South during the early days of the Ku Klux Klan and poll taxes was still counter to the culture. A few years after Sen. Revels left for Alcorn State University, Blanche Bruce became the first African-American Senator to serve a full term. Sen. Bruce was also from Mississippi. While many of us may consider The Magnolia State as lagging in terms of race relations, at one point it was a leader in positive race relations.
 
Even in modern times, only 10 African-Americans have served in the Senate—6 Democrat & 4 Republican. Included in this list of Senators is Pres. Obama and 2020 Presidential hopefuls Kamala Harris and Cory Booker. The House has had some more success than the Senate with 153 members.
Have you ever heard about Sen. Hiram Rhodes Revels?