To the Conference on Economic Conditions of the South:
No purpose is closer to my heart at this moment than that which caused me to call you to Washington. That purpose is to obtain a statement—or, perhaps, I should say a re-statement as of today—of the economic conditions of the South, a picture of the South in relation to the rest of the country, in order that we may do something about it: in order that we may not only carry forward the work that has been begun toward the rehabilitation of the South, but that the program of such work may be expanded in the directions that this new presentation will indicate.
My intimate interest in all that concerns the South is, I believe, known to all of you, but this interest is far more than a sentimental attachment born of a considerable residence in your section and of close personal friendship with so many of your people. It proceeds even more from my feeling of responsibility toward the whole nation. It is my conviction that the South presents right now the nation's No. 1 economic problem-the nation's problem, not merely the South's. For we have an economic unbalance in the nation as a whole, due to this very condition of the South.
It is an unbalance that can and must be righted, for the sake of the South and of the nation.
Without going into the long history of how this situation came to be—the long and ironic history of the despoiling of this truly American section of the country's population—suffice it for the immediate purpose to get a clear perspective of the task that is presented to us. That task embraces the wasted or neglected resources of land and water, the abuses suffered by the soil, the need for cheap fertilizer and cheap power; the problems presented by the population itself—a population still holding the great heritages of King's Mountain and Shiloh—the problems presented by the South's capital resources and the absentee ownership of those resources, and problems growing out of the new industrial era and, again, of absentee ownership of the new industries. There is the problem of labor and employment in the South and the related problem of protecting women and children in this field. There is the problem of farm ownership, of which farm tenancy is a part, and of farm income. There are questions of taxation, of education, of housing, and of health.
More and more definitely in recent years those in the South who have sought selflessly to evaluate the elements constituting the general problem have come to agree on certain basic factors. I have asked Mr. Mellett to present for your consideration a statement of these factors as prepared by various departments of the Government. I ask you to consider this statement critically, in the light of your own general or specific knowledge, in order that it may be made representative of the South's own best thought and that it may be presented to Congress and the public as such.
I had hoped to attend your meeting and listen to your discussions. Unhappily, other pressing work makes this impossible. Please accept my sincere regret that I cannot be with you and be assured that I anticipate with deep interest the result of your labors.