White Collar Radicals
TVA’s Knoxville Fifteen, the New Deal, and the McCarthy Era
Publication Year: 2009
Published by: The University of Tennessee Press
Title Page, Copyright
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In 2006, after plodding through graduate school three different times at three different universities, I rediscovered the joys of reading fiction. After a few light reads, I found myself drawn to the works of more complicated authors, including Cormac McCarthy and William Faulkner. Their rich characters challenged me to better understand human frailty, hidden subtleties, and larger ...
Cast of Characters
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In late October 2001, I stumbled upon an item on eBay listed as a handwritten 1930s TVA worker’s diary. At that time, I served as university archivist at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and frequently monitored eBay for items that would fit within the collection areas for the Special Collections Library. Headquartered in Knoxville, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) ...
Part One: Visions
Chapter 1. A Fertile Ground: The Birth of the Tennessee Valley Authority
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Southern Agrarian writer Donald Davidson opened his seminal work The Tennessee (1946) with these lines. He continued, saying that the first river “is the new Tennessee, a man-made river, the product of engineering operations of such calculated daring that the imagination is daunted to find precedent for them.” After complimenting TVA for its massive accomplishments during just a decade, Davidson ...
Chapter 2. “We Were a Bunch of Radicals”: The Early Years of the Knoxville Fifteen
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On 28 February 1936, Howard Bridgman helped fellow TVA employee Mabel Abercrombie move to a new apartment in Knoxville. Bridgman recorded the event in his diary. Following a “succession of trips” the new space was filled with “boxes, bundles, loose clothing, and more boxes.” Afterward, Bridgman and Abercrombie began conversing with the landlord. Bridgman noted: ...
Chapter 3. Reds in the Mailroom: The TVA Years, 1933–1939
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In early 1936, twenty-five-year-old Howard Bridgman arrived in Knoxville and began an entry-level position as a TVA messenger. Fresh from other New Deal experiences, Bridgman recognized the agency’s great potential both for the region and for himself. Once in Knoxville, Bridgman renewed old friendships and made new friends with like-minded messengers. Bridgman’s coworker ...
Part Two: Realities
Chapter 4. Wars at Home and Abroad: First Investigations and Second Chances, 1940–1945
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On 1 September 1939, David Lilienthal lay in bed recovering from the flu. Just two weeks before, the young TVA board member had finalized the agency’s purchase of all the properties owned by the Tennessee Electric Power Company for $78 million. The transaction single-handedly made TVA the largest power company in the South after a mere six years in existence. But the flurry ...
Chapter 5. “Saw Plenty”: Confirmations and Investigations, 1946–1947
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On 7 August 1945, the day after the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, TVA board chairman David Lilienthal captured the magnitude of that moment in his journal. Writing from his modest home in Norris, Tennessee, Lilienthal recorded, “The story of the ‘Mystery Plant’ near Clinton is out. Whether or not the atomic bomb proves to be so devastating as to mean ...
Chapter 6. “Oh, You Mean the Square Dancing”: HUAC, the FBI, and the Remington Trials, 1947–1954
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In July 1950 Forrest Benson, a TVA personnel officer with nearly fifteen years of experience with the agency, prepared to appear before a federal employee loyalty board. That month Benson wrote a letter to his supervisor to explain his past. A 1930s supporter of labor reform and colleague of known members of the Communist Party, Benson searched for the right words to explain his ...
Part Three: Aftermath
Chapter 7. Return to Knoxville, 1955–Present
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In June 1953, Laurent Frantz published the first in a series of articles for the Nation about HUAC hearings and Fifth Amendment rights. A 1940 Dies Committee witness and older brother of John Frantz, Laurent held strong personal views on government-led investigations. Frantz believed that the government targeted certain individuals and used the fear of subsequent perjury ...
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Truth is stranger than fiction, especially when it comes to family. No matter how hard we try, we cannot escape our roots and relatives. Eager genealogists searching for heroes are often crushed when they link themselves to unalterable events and statements of the past. Over time, larger changes in society and culture erode the context in which events occurred, making past utterances ...
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Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 34 halftones
Publication Year: 2009