John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks at Muscle Shoals, Alabama, at the 30th Anniversary Celebration of TVA.

May 18, 1963

Mr. Chairman, Governor Wallace, Members of the Alabama Delegation, old friends and colleagues, Senator Hill, Senator Sparkman, Congressman Bob Jones, Congressman Bert Rains, Congressman Carl Elliott, all of whom have come from Washington today to take part in this ceremony, ladies and gentlemen:

Alabama has one of the most distinguished Delegations in the Congress of the United States, and I am proud to be in a State that this outstanding group of men represents !

I take great pleasure in joining you on a most important anniversary for this community, this State, this region, this country.

Thirty years ago today a dream came true. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt--in the presence of TVA's two great defenders, George Norris of Nebraska and Lister Hill of Alabama--signed his name to one of the most unique legislative accomplishments in the history of the United States. That simple ceremony which took only a few minutes ended a struggle which had gone on for a decade. It gave life to a measure which had been vetoed twice by two preceding Presidents--Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover--and in reality this act of signature was only a beginning.

There were many who still regarded the undertaking with doubt, some with scorn, some with outright hostility. Some said it couldn't be done. Some said it shouldn't be done. Some said it wouldn't be done. But today, 30 years later, it has been done. They predicted the Government was too inefficient to help electrify the valley. But TVA, by any objective test, is not only the largest but one of the best managed power systems in the United States. They predicted, and there are always those who predict everything against something new-they predicted that a Federal regional corporation would undermine the State governments and the local governments, but State and local governments are thriving in this valley, and hundreds of State and local park and recreational areas have been set aside through the entire TVA.

They predicted that TVA would destroy private enterprise, but this valley has never bloomed like it does today, and hundreds of thousands of jobs have been created because of the work that these men did before us. New forests have been built, new farms have been developed, engineers who testified that multipurpose dams would not work, that rivers could not be developed for navigation and the generation of electricity and prevention's of floods at the same time, were proved wrong. Barge traffic on this system has grown from 33 million tons in 1933 to 2 billion tons today, on a river spanned by more than 30 dams. They are contributing to the life and vigor of the largest supplier of power in the United States. And as the people of this State and valley who made this possible, I congratulate you all. Because this has not been made to work in Washington--it has been made to work by the people of the valley.

Despite a record of success, TVA still has its skeptics and its critics. There are still those who call it "creeping socialism," and we recently saw an advertising campaign which implied that TVA and public power were comparable to the Berlin Wall and the East Berlin police as threats to our freedom. But the tremendous economic growth of this region, its private industry, its private income, make it dear to all that TVA is a fitting answer to socialism, and it is not creeping, nor will it in the future. There are still those, and some of them come from Massachusetts, who say that this asset serves only the valley. There are some people who say about every project to improve the wealth of this country, "That isn't good because that helps the people in the West, or the South, or the Northeast."

This great country of ours has been developed because people working together made it possible to develop this valley, Congressmen and Senators from the Northeast United States who have voted for it, men from this part of the country who have helped develop the West. By working together, we have recognized that a rising tide lifts all the boats, and this valley will not be prosperous unless other sections of the country are rich, nor will other sections of the country be rich unless the valley is prosperous. That is the lesson of the last 30 years.

As a final example of its national role, I would cite to you--and I consider this one of the most important contributions of the Tennessee Valley, and it isn't written in any credit or debit book--the 2,000 people who come from abroad to the TVA, from other lands, Kings, Prime Ministers, students, technicians, people who are uncommitted, people who don't know which way to go, people who are unsure. They come here and gain an impression not by merely visiting Washington or New York, but by coming to this valley. They gain an impression of vitality and growth, and the ability of people to work together in a free society. This has been one of the most powerful advertisements for the picture of the United States around the world that we have had, for these people come from nations whose poverty threatens to exceed their hopes, who do not feel they can solve their problems. They come here and compare this valley today to what it was 30 years ago, and they leave here feeling that they, too, can solve their problems in a system of freedom.

Finally, there are those who say that TVA has finished its jobs and outlived its challenges. But all of the essential roles of TVA remain. Their importance increases as the importance of this area's atomic energy, military, and commercial activities increase, and new opportunities, new frontiers open every year, including work on the smaller upstream tributaries, reclaiming land scarred by coal mining, new types of national recreational areas, and new studies of flood land zoning and planning, to name a few. In short, the work of TVA will never be done until the work of our country is done. There will always be new places for us to go, for, in the minds of men the world over, the initials TVA stand for progress, and the people of this area welcome progress. And it stands for cooperation between public and private enterprise, between upstream and downstream interests, between those who are concerned with power and navigation, flood control and recreation, and, above all, cooperation between the Federal Government and the seven States of this area.

From time to time statements are made labeling the Federal Government an outsider, an intruder, an adversary. In any free federation of States, of course differences will arise and difficulties will persist. But the people of this area know that the United States Government is not a stranger or not an enemy. It is the people of 50 States joining in a national effort to see progress in every State of the Union. For without the National Government, without the people of the United States working as a people, there would be no TVA. Without the National Government, the people of the United States, working together, there would be no protection of the family farmer, his income and his financial independence. For he never would have been able to electrify his farm, to insure his crop, to support its price, and to stay ahead of the bugs, the boll weevils, and the mortgage bankers. Without the National Government and the people of the United States working together, there would be no school lunch or milk programs for our children, no assistance on conserving soil or harvesting trees, no loans to help a farmer buy his farm and no security at the bank.

Without the National Government, the people of one country, there could be no Coosa-Alabama River project, with the first dam under way this month at Millers Ferry. Without the people of the United States working together with the National Government, there would be no Hill-Burton hospitals, which have helped develop the best hospital system in the world today, no assistance to rural libraries, no help to college dormitories, where we seek to send our children, no control of water pollution, which we must drink, or assistance to depressed areas, or help for training teachers. The list goes on and on. Only a great national effort by a great people working together can explore the mysteries of space, harvest the products at the bottom of the ocean, and mobilize the human, natural, and material resources of our lands. I cite these examples not to show the growth of Federal activity, for it is small compared to the Nation's, but to show the positive side of Federal-State cooperation, of which TVA is an outstanding symbol.

For this is and must always be "one Nation under God, indivisible." Franklin Roosevelt came from Hyde Park, N.Y., more than 1100 miles from this community. George Norris was not a representative of this State. He came from McCook, Nebr., also more than 1100 miles from this community. But they knew that the conquest of floods and poverty in this valley was not a local or a regional matter of concern only to the people who lived here. It required the best effort of the Nation, and they were not afraid to direct the power and purpose of the Nation towards a solution of the Nation's problems.

I have read much of George Norris from Nebraska, and his favorite phrase, recurring throughout all of his speeches, was his reference, and his dedication, to "generations yet unborn." The first of those generations is now enjoying the fruits of his labor, as will others for decades to come. So let us all, whether we are public officials or private citizens, northerners or southerners, easterners or westerners, farmers or city dwellers, live up to the ideals and ideas of George Norris, and resolve that we, too, in our time, 30 years later, will, ourselves, build a better Nation for "generations yet unborn."

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 2:30 p.m. in front of the administration building at the TVA fertilizer development center at Muscle Shoals, Ala. In his opening words he referred to Aubrey J. Wagner, Chairman, Tennessee Valley Authority; George C. Wallace, Governor of Alabama; and U.S. Senators Lister Hilt and John Sparkman and U.S. Representatives Robert E. Jones, Albert Rains, and Carl Elliott-all of Alabama. He later referred to former Senator George W. Norris of Nebraska.

John F. Kennedy, Remarks at Muscle Shoals, Alabama, at the 30th Anniversary Celebration of TVA. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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