Monday, November 17, 2008

The River

Source: Internet Archive (pt. 2)

Classic documentary history of the exploitation of the resources of the Mississippi River Valley and the work being done to rehabilitate and reclaim the area.

Views are shown of the Rockies in the West and the Alleghenies in the East, and of typical scenes of the Mississippi watershed from Minnesota to the sea. A map shows the vast network of rivers that flow into the Mississippi. The commentator says that the water from nearly two-thirds of the continent flows down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. Along the banks of the lower Mississippi levees are being built to hold the river off the valley. These dikes, says the commentator, were begun by the French and Spanish before the Louisiana Purchase and were extended by us until they reached a thousand miles to the mouth of the Ohio.

The history of the Mississippi River, beginning with pre-Civil War days, is traced. Before the war, commerce of the inland states was sent in steamboats to the sea. There are scenes of cotton being picked, bound into bales, and rolled on board river boats. The Civil War interrupted that trade. Ruined southern homes symbolize the economic collapse of the South following the war. While the war was immediately responsible for that collapse, the soil which had been impoverished by a quarter of a century of frenzied cotton growing was a large contributing factor. Planters from the Old South moved westward. At the same time new industries arose -- lumbering in the North, coal and iron mining in the North and East. There is a series of views of lumbering and mining activities as the commentator tells of the rapid exploitation of these resources. Towns and cities sprang up in the Mississippi Valley and with them mills and factories and railroads.

The results of planless exploitation began to appear. The grasslands were plowed and the forests were cut over. There was no covering to hold the moisture, and more and more of the topsoil was washed away. In 1937 the river could no longer hold the excess water, and the worst flood in United States history was the result. The Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Civilian Conservation Corps, Works Progress Administration, and Red Cross were all called out to reinforce the levees and rescue the sick and drowning. The sharecroppers of the South suffer from the waste of the valley. They live in the richest river valley in the world but are ill-clad, ill-housed, and ill-fed. There are views of miserable living conditions among the sharecroppers.

The final sequence suggests the program which the government has undertaken to rehabilitate the river valley. The Tennessee Valley Authority is presented as a part of a program to reconstruct and conserve the resources of the valley. Civilian Conservation Corps boys are shown planting trees on cutover land. A model agricultural community is built and farmers are instructed in scientific tilling of the soil. The Tennessee Valley Authority provides electricity at a low cost to the people of the valley.


In the Library:
  • Buchanan, Thomas C. 2004. Black life on the Mississippi: slaves, free Blacks, and the western steamboat world. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. [link: WorldCat]
  • Colten, Craig E. 2000. Transforming New Orleans and its environs: centuries of change. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press. [link: WorldCat]
  • Gould, E. W. 1889. Fifty years on the Mississippi; or, Gould's history of river navigation. Saint Louis: Nixon-Jones printing co. [link: WorldCat]
  • Jackson, Joy J. 1993. Where the river runs deep: the story of a Mississippi River pilot. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. [link: WorldCat]
  • Kemper, James Parkerson. 1949. Rebellious river. Boston: Humphries. [link: WorldCat]
  • Pabis, George S. 2007. Daily life along the Mississippi. Greenwood Press "Daily life through history" series. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press. [link: WorldCat]

On the Web: