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One Third of a Nation: Lorena Hickok Reports…

One Third of a Nation: Lorena Hickok Reports on the Great Depression

by Lorena Hickok

Other authors: Maurine H. Beasley (Editor), Richard Lowitt (Editor)

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Harry Hopkins was FDR's Federal Emergency Relief Administrator in 1933. Hopkins sent journalists around the country to write "reports" about the conditions they found. Hopkins sent Lorena Hickok traveling as a "confidential investigator" throughout the U.S. to report on "the state of tha nation."

Far from objective, Hockok saw the people of Tennessee, for example, as dirty, ignorant, and incapable of working their own land; they were "helpless victims" of nature who needed to be bailed out by Big Government.

This is from a letter from Hickok to Hopkins in 1934: "What to do with these people makes a nice little problem. Whether to move them off--and if so, where to put them--or, with careful and authoritative supervision they might eke out a living, leave them there and take a chance on their being absorbed in the industries that should be attracted down here by the cheap power furnished by TVA."

Hopkins had an agenda, and he used Hickok and others to meet that agenda: to prove that the country was in a "God-awful mess" and take the land from people in Appalachia in order to create dams for the Tennessee Valley Authority. If people were too "dirty and ignorant" to farm their own land, then it was no problem--it was even a good thing--for the government to take it from them.

Jim Powell in his book, FDR's Folly, has another take on the TVA, believing that it actually depressed the Tennessee economy. It's a complicated issue, with arguments for and against on both sides, but to say that Hickok was sent out to write "objective" reports is simply wrong.

One example that I know of personally: the TVA drowned the entire town of Butler, Tennessee. People whose families had lived in the area for generation after generation were given no choice but to sell their land to the government--at bargain (for the government) prices. They had to dig up the graves of their ancestors and move them to higher ground--or know that they would be left at the bottom of the new reservoir. I talked to a woman in the area in 2005 who was a child at the time. Speaking of her grandmother and others in the community, she said, "The government killed our old people." What the government did to these people was heartbreaking; Hickok's "reports" were in many cases simply telling the feds what they wanted to hear.

That being said, Lorena's letters to Harry Hopkins make fascinating reading.
  labwriter | Jan 9, 2010 |
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Lorena Hickokprimary authorall editionscalculated
Beasley, Maurine H.Editorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lowitt, RichardEditorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Between 1933 and 1935, Lorena Hickok traveled across thirty-two states as a "confidential investigator" for Harry Hopkins, head of FDR's Federal Emergency Relief Administration. Her assignment was to gather information about the day-to-day toll the Depression was exacting on individual citizens. One Third of a Nation is her record, underscored by the eloquent photographs of Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, and others, of the shocking plight of millions of unemployed and dispossessed Americans.  … (more)

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