AUGUST 21, 1939
HYDE PARK, Sunday—I have just been sent a report which grew out of an investigation made in the State of Tennessee. Some of the ideas seem to be applicable everywhere in the country. I am going to give you a few of the thoughts which struck me most:
"So, to get around to the bug that's 'eating on me,' and has been since the first week of the review, it seems to me that the WPA should have in its budget somewhere a fund to cure itself and that this fund should provide a staff of experts—geologists, agriculturists, economists and engineers—whose business it would be to examine all of the economic possibilities of each working area. If they should decide that a community is as hopelessly inadequate to the needs of its population as I am afraid this county is, then the Government ought to buy it up and plant it in forests.
"If, on the other hand, they found some ways and means for a population to remain in its habitat, the information should be put in the hands of the chamber of commerce, or individuals who can afford to develop the resources..... I would like, also, to see a group of trained psychologists and doctors do a more thorough review of WPA workers to determine the number of unemployables."
"A lot of erroneous ideas have sprung up concerning the type of men on WPA. As a matter of fact, they are not much different from any other block of human beings except in the matter of education and training. They did not seem to be alarmingly prolific, nor stupid, nor lazy and untrustworthy. I think their moral integrity, upon the whole, would compare favorably with that of any other group."
The reason this interested me so much lies in the fact that in some communities the self-help cooperatives have accomplished wonders. I saw something attributed to a Congressman (I will not name him for fear of making a mistake) in which he criticized certain government communities for giving people too much and felt that they had lost the power of working out their own difficulties as a result.
He evidently had not followed the origins of these communities he was visiting and he did not know that people he was visiting today were far better able to cope with any situation than they were five years ago. What he was grieving about was the result of conditions from '30 to '34 and not from '34 to '39.
There is still insecurity and many mistakes have been made, but he should have seen these people in the homes they left and, in addition, he should see people in similar circumstances today who have not been moved. He will find them even more insecure. Where, however, people can make a new start in their own communities with government help and self-help cooperatives, I think we have a much easier situation to work out.