TVA's Early Days

BY JOE RUTHERFORD
Daily Journal

Northeast Mississippians with first-hand memories of the Tennessee Valley Authority's early days in Mississippi have a chance to become part of a major documentary film celebrating TVA's 75th anniversary in 2008.

Producers Sean and Andrea Nix Fine, who recently won first place for documentary film directing in Robert Redford's prestigious Sundance Film Festival, have started work on the TVA film, and Northeast Mississippians are needed for the “cast.”

TVA is the nation's largest public utility. It serves more than 8.5 million customers in seven southeastern states, including Northeast Mississippi.

The Northeast Mississippi region is rich in TVA-related history. Tupelo became the first TVA contract city on Oct. 27, 1933, and power began flowing Feb. 7, 1934. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed thhe TVA act on May 18, 1933. In early 1934, Alcorn County Electric Power Association, became the first TVA-affiliated electric cooperative.

President Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt, his wife, visited Tupelo on Nov. 18, 1934, to officially mark the TVA contract and inspect a New Deal affordable housing development near what is now the Natchez Trace Parkway headquarters.

Sean Fine said he and his wife, who own their studio and have a combined 20-plus years as film makers, want to collect “really memorable” stories of TVA history from people who are part of the history.

“We want to make those personal connections,” he said.

Non-profits backing
Financial backing and other support for the film is coming from BVI, a not-for-profit organization of TVA retirees with valleywide membership, headquartered in Knoxville, the authority's administrative center.

Bob Steffy, executive director of BVI, said about $750,000 has been dedicated to the film's production from the non-profit's resources.

“We want to get a high-quality film of that major transition in the Tennessee River valley's history produced and made part of the permanent archives,” Steffy said. “There is such a vast difference between the valley in 1933 and today, and it needs to be documented.”

Emma Williams, a publicist for Fine Films, said the documentary will be shown in TVA-region cinemas and on the Documentary Channel, a cable network.

Louise Nanny Godwin, daughter of 1933 Tupelo Mayor J.P. Nanney, said her father worked for months with U.S. Rep. John Rankin, D-Tupelo, on getting TVA power.

“I remember he went to Washington and other places working on the TVA project,” Godwin said. “Then, when TVA power started, our electric bills dropped significantly, and that meant we could afford to use our lights more. I didn't have to worry quite so much about turning out a light when I left the room.”

Godwin, who rode in the motorcade to Robins Field when the Roosevelts visited, said she remembers people in rural areas getting electricity for the first time when TVA brought lines into Mississippi.

“Some people put washing machines on their porches; I guess they were so proud to have them for the first time because they finally had gotten electricity,” Godwin recalled.

TVA spokesman James Allen said a schedule has not been finalized, but events are expected to begin in January, climaxing on May 16 with a major event in Knoxville to mark the 75th anniversary week.

Former TVA Chairman Glenn McCullough Jr. of Tupelo, who now heads a Mississippi-based consulting firm, said TVA is a “great experiment” that succeeded.

“Sen. George Norris of Nebraska, FDR, and others had a vision of taming an untamed river that flooded land every year, to produce electricity, and tie that to economic development,” McCullough said.

“Today we have three industrial megasites in Mississippi (Toyota, SeverCorr, and Paccar) with billions of dollars in investment, and those are a direct result of that experiment.”

Contact editorial page editor Joe Rutherford at (662) 678-1597 or at joe. rutherford@djournal.com.

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