Tag Archives: New Deal

A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words, But That Is Not Always Enough

21 May

My brother sent an email that he thought I would find interesting. It contains a slide show of old photographs that have been colorized. As the series of photos appear on the screen, melancholy music plays in the background. I must admit that it is a cool thing to look at.

Each photograph has a caption that explains the images. Some of them are of famous people and famous events. Others are of regular people doing regular things. However, one of them stood out from the rest. The caption read, “A mother and her children living on US Route 70 near the Tennessee River 1936.”Poor Woman

This photo struck me for several reasons. Obviously, the imagery is striking as it portrays absolute poverty. The mother had made a skirt from a flour sack, and the children are wearing rags. They are all barefooted and dirty. We can only imagine how hungry they are. Despite these circumstances, the child on the right looks to be having fun. He is pulling on his sister’s foot and smiling at her. She could be laughing or squealing. The scene tells a complicated story.

However, the image was not the only thing that struck me. The picture was made in my state of Tennessee, and that brought the images closer to home. I remember stories of the Great Depression from my grandparents. They said that the Depression was bad, but they were poor before it began.

All of that brought this image close to home, but there is something else. The caption says that they were “living on US Route 70.” That is the road I grew up on. Granted, it is a federal highway that goes from coast to coast, but I always considered it my street. Somewhere inside, I feel that this picture was taken in my neighborhood. It was a different time and vastly different economic circumstances, but it is still my neighborhood.

With all of that going on, I had to do some quick online research, and some interesting information popped up.

This photograph was taken by Carl Mydans as part of the Farm Security Administration, one of the many New Deal programs. It was designed to help the rural poor find better land and learn better farming techniques. To chronicle the plight of these people, photographers and writers were sent out to record their stories. I have no idea how successful the program was in agricultural education, but it provided us with some iconic images of the time period.

(Sidenote: Gordon Parks was a photographer in this program. He went on to greater fame as the director of Shaft.)

As I dug deeper, more information came to light. The family lived near Camden, and their shack was built on the chassis of a Ford truck. There were nine people in the family, and the 17-year-old son said that he had only attend school for two years. Also, there are other photographs that include the father, other kids and the man interviewing them.

That is good information, but there is more that needs to be known. What were their names? How did they find themselves in this situation? Was it the result of the Great Depression, or did the poverty go back for generations? What happened to them? Did the children grow up and improve their condition? Did they survive? Did they know that their pictures would become part of our national heritage?

Like many stories from the past, this one has missing pieces that may never be found. We know a great deal about those in power, but we still have a long way to go with the masses that make history complete.

What Happens When a Settler Says, “Look At All Those Cedar Trees.”

24 Aug

A few days ago, our school, the School of Humanities, Education and the Arts, held a retreat at Cedars of Lebanon State Park, located a few miles south of town. As we sat in the assembly hall and talked about the upcoming academic year, my mind kept wandering toward our surroundings and the times I have spent in the park.

On one side of the hall, there is a playground and some picnic tables. That’s where we had a picnic for my grandfather a few weeks before he passed away. He had a brain tumor, and everyone knew his time was short. Picnics were one of his favorite things, so we had one while he was still able.

On the other side of the hall, there is a softball field in need of much repair. In the past, our university’s intramurals have been played there, but it was built for a different purpose. Years ago my dad sponsored a professional softball team, and he had the field built as a home park. Everything was donated, but some government agency refused to put up the lights. I noticed that there are now lights.

The Dixon Merritt Nature Center is located just past the field.Nature Center

Named for a local historian, the center presents the wildlife that can be found in the park. When I was a kid, we would take field trips to the nature center. I always wondered why a center dedicated to nature would have stuffed animals on display.

There is a short trail behind the nature center that I always thought was cool. It leads into a gully that contains a cave. I never got up the courage to go into the cave, but legend says that it ends underneath the town square. That’s probably not true, but it was the home of a whiskey making operation.

At the other end of the trail, there is a New Deal era recreation building that used to have a ping-pong table. On the other side of that is a playground with a great slide and a great swing set. When I was a kid, I would see how high the swings would go. Some kids jumped out of them. I always dragged my feet on the ground until it stopped.

In the same area, there are a bunch of picnic tables. These fill up the fastest because they are the first ones that people drive past. Unfortunately, my memories of this area aren’t positive. Sitting on one of the tables, a girlfriend and I had one of those discussions that always ends in a breakup.

If people drive past these tables, then they will find other things in the park. Like any good state park, there is a camping area. There are also some pretty cool trails. A swimming pool is located at the far end of the park. I think that I went there once as a kid. It’s a nice pool, but we had one at home.

There is also a frisbee golf course that a few of us played. That’s when I discovered that I am no better at frisbee golf than I am real golf.

Cedars of Lebanon is named for the grove of trees that it encompasses, and our town, Lebanon, is named for the same reason. When settlers first moved into the area, they saw all of the cedars and got all Biblical. You know, the Bible talks about the cedars of Lebanon, so that seemed like a good thing to name the town.Lebanon Flag

These days, Lebanon is known as the “Cedar City.” Although the park is officially named Cedars of Lebanon, most long-time Lebanese call it Cedar Forest. There are “cedar” things all over the place. There is even a Cedarstone Bank that combines the two things we have most of – cedars and rocks.

The rock part is accurate. You can’t dig anywhere around here without hitting them. However, the cedar part presents a problem. One day, I was talking to one of our biology professors who is an expert in plants, and he said something along the lines of:

You know all of the cedars around here. They aren’t cedars. They are junipers.

So, the settlers were wrong. There are no cedars to inspire the name of Lebanon. Now, the city with the wrong name uses a slogan that is just as wrong. The park that has been part of my life and the lives of many people in this area has the wrong name. We thought we were playing amongst the cedars when we were really should have been calling it Juniper Forest.

All I can say is welcome to “Juniper City.”