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White Collar Radicals

TVA’s Knoxville Fifteen, the New Deal, and the McCarthy Era

Aaron D. Purcell

Publication Year: 2009

They came from all corners of the country-fifteen young, idealistic, educated men and women drawn to Knoxville, Tennessee, to work for the Tennessee Valley Authority, one of the first of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal projects. Mostly holding entry-level jobs, these young people became friends and lovers, connecting to one another at work and through other social and political networks.. What the fifteen failed to realize was that these activities-union organizing and, for most, membership in the Communist Party-would plunge them into a maelstrom that would endanger, and for some, destroy their livelihoods, social standing, and careers. White Collar Radicals follows their lives from New Deal activism in the 1930s through the 1940s and 1950s government investigations into what were perceived as subversive deeds. Aaron D. Purcell shows how this small group of TVA idealists was unwillingly thrust from obscurity into the national spotlight, victims and participants of the second Red Scare in the years following World War II. The author brings into sharp focus the determination of the government to target and expose alleged radicals of the 1930s during the early Cold War period. The book also demonstrates how the national hysteria affected individual lives. White Collar Radicals is both a historical study and a cautionary tale. The Knoxville Fifteen, who endured the dark days of the McCarthy Era, now have their story told for the first time-a story that offers modern-day lessons on freedom, civil liberties, and the authority of the government.

Published by: The University of Tennessee Press

Title Page, Copyright

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Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xiii

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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pp. xv-xviii

Abbreviations

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pp. xix-

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Introduction

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pp. xxi-xxvii

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

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Chapter 1. A Fertile Ground: The Birth of the Tennessee Valley Authority

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pp. 3-12

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 ...

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Chapter 2. “We Were a Bunch of Radicals”: The Early Years of the Knoxville Fifteen

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pp. 13-38

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: ...

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Chapter 3. Reds in the Mailroom: The TVA Years, 1933–1939

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pp. 39-74

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

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Chapter 4. Wars at Home and Abroad: First Investigations and Second Chances, 1940–1945

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pp. 77-108

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 ...

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Chapter 5. “Saw Plenty”: Confirmations and Investigations, 1946–1947

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pp. 109-138

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 ...

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Chapter 6. “Oh, You Mean the Square Dancing”: HUAC, the FBI, and the Remington Trials, 1947–1954

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pp. 137-168

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

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Chapter 7. Return to Knoxville, 1955–Present

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pp. 171-190

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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Postscript

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pp. 191-194

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 ...

Notes

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pp. 195-228

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 229-244

Index

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pp. 245-258


E-ISBN-13: 9781572336834
E-ISBN-10: 1572336838
Print-ISBN-13: 9781572336612
Print-ISBN-10: 1572336617

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 34 halftones
Publication Year: 2009