Electricity for all
Since the beginning of time, darkness hovered over the surface of what now constitutes the South Eastern Conference. Then in 1933, FDR said, “Let there be dams,” forever changing life in the American South. In short order, this region was transformed. Jobs were created, power lines were hung and rivers changed course. Floods subsided and farms flourished as the TVA went to work bringing untold numbers of Americans into the 20th century.
This was a region of people living a life virtually unchanged from that of their ancestors; breaking their backs to live, with no real opportunity for economic mobility. As the electric lines were strung up across the south like kudzu climbing up a river bluff, factories and mills sprung up like weeds taking advantage of the advancement in the region. This, of course, did not come without a cost.
It’s hard to imagine now, but in the same the TVA changed life in the south, it also transformed the topography. For most of us, the Tennessee Valley has looked the way it does our entire lives. It’s hard to imagine that under all that water at Wheeler Lake, there once were family farms and homes. Where we now sit in our boats dragging the water, way down below the surface, funerals once were held for dear loved ones.
My uncle and I used to go fishing on Wilson Lake, and I would always be fascinated by the depth finder. I would stare at the screen and try to imagine what it might look like down there. As we swam near the boat, it occurred to me that a hundred years ago, I would have to have been flying to be so far from the ground.
Recently I stood below Wilson Dam and watched as the water came tumbling down. I wondered if families ever stood on those banks and said, “And over there, between those islands, is where we planted the tobacco.” Then I got back in my truck as the sun began to set and somewhere in the rearview mirror, I could have sworn I saw someone light a kerosene lantern.