TVA and Black Americans: Planning for the Status Quo

TVA and Black Americans: Planning for the Status Quo

TVA and Black Americans: Planning for the Status Quo

TVA and Black Americans: Planning for the Status Quo

Synopsis

During the New Deal and World War II, the Tennessee Valley Authority was economically limited by marginal farmlands and industry-poor cities, and socially defined by an Upper South society segregated by race in education, employment, and social services. TVA and Black Americans examines the treatment of blacks as employees and clients in Franklin Roosevelt's "boldest and most liberal social planning experiment." In her critical study, Nancy Grant contends that TVA planned for a future revitalized valley that included blacks primarily in traditionally subordinate economic and social positions. Throughout her study, Grant details the largely unsuccessful efforts of national and Valley civil rights organizations, the Fair Employment Practices Committee, and progressive TVA employees to change TVA's racial policies. She reveals the harsh reality for blacks of limited job opportunities, unequal distribution of social and educational services, and institutionalized racism within TVA. Tracing the changes in attitudes and procedures from 1933 to 1945, Grant reexamines the history of a Southern government agency that was known for its liberalism and experimentation in social and regional planning and challenges that reputation. Author note: Nancy L. Grant is Associate Professor of History at Dartmouth College.

Excerpt

This is a book about the treatment of blacks by the Tennessee Valley Authority during the New Deal and World War II. It is a study that examines one corner of the New Deal, physically defined by the seven-state watershed of the Tennessee River and its tributaries; economically defined by the marginal farmlands and industry-poor cities; and socially defined by the customs of an Upper South that segregated on the basis of race in education, employment, social services, and politics. The book also examines the promises made by Franklin Roosevelt and the TVA board of directors in 1933 to bring hope and prosperity to all valley inhabitants, both black and white. In the area of race relations, TVA promised a policy of nondiscrimination in its hiring and training programs. In this corner, however, definitions remained vague, separations became indistinct, and promises were sometimes broken. Valley residents, though separated by race and class, were linked by economic hardships. The TVA, headquartered in Knoxville with the promise of administrative autonomy, was nevertheless closely linked to Washington, answering to the complaints of Congress, the courts, and the White House. Finally, promises of revitalization and change dissolved into the reality of the racial status quo for blacks living and working in the valley.

TVA and Black Americans is organized along topical rather than strictly chronological lines in order to analyze the breadth of TVA activities in employment and regional development. The treatment of blacks by TVA changed slowly in the years 1933 to 1945. Changes that did occur in the hiring and promotion of black employees, as well as plans for Tennessee valley black communities, were made largely in response to threatened lawsuits or investigations by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC). The latter was a government committee established in 1941 by Roosevelt to investigate complaints of racial discrimination in war-related industries and in departments and agencies of the federal government. An aura of unalterable sameness in racial policy pervaded TVA official correspondence, statistical reports, and internal memoranda.

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