Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories/2015/Fall/Section 020/Calvin and Lola Rucker

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Calvin and Lola Rucker were tenant farmers in rural East Tennessee until the Great Depression, when they moved to Knoxville in search of work.

Calvin and Lola Rucker
BornEast Tennessee, c.a. 1880
Diedunknown
OccupationTenant farmers, handyman


Biography[edit]

Lola Rucker[edit]

Lola Rucker was born in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in rural East Tennessee. Following the death of her mother in Lola’s late teens, she moved to Knoxville to work in a mill. She met Calvin in the city after World War I and the two married soon after.[1]

Calvin Rucker[edit]

Little information is known about Calvin Rucker’s early life. After meeting Lola in Knoxville, the couple moved to the foothills of the Appalachians to work as tenant farmers on a small plot of land. Calvin had one son with Lola, named “Cap,” born c.a. 1924. When the Depression struck, Calvin and the family moved to Knoxville in search of work. He often worked odd-jobs for people around the city to survive. His income was approximately $10 per week.[2]

Life in Knoxville[edit]

The Ruckers lived in poorly constructed slums, where roofs would often leak and homes would flood during storms. Despite the harsh conditions in which they were forced to live, the family maintained a strong religious conviction. Although the Ruckers did not attend church regularly, they strived to raise their son with Christian morals and principles.[3]

Social Issues[edit]

Knoxville During the Great Depression[edit]

Like other midsized cities of the Depression Era, Knoxville experienced an influx of transient workers. While many poor and middle class residents left the city to find work elsewhere, a constant flow of rural laborers moved into the city. For many, this move was futile, because work was scarce throughout the region, regardless of city size. As the standard of living in Knoxville declined, crime rates increased.[4]

The Market House was the economic hub of Knoxville for first half of the Twentieth Century until its demolition in 1963.

During the Depression, poor Knoxville residents lived in either slums close to the center of the city or shantytowns on the outskirts of town.[5] These slums were often segregated, although sometimes pockets of integration occurred, such as in the King’s Alley neighborhood in the Bowery (now known as the Old City). As time progressed and urban segregation became more codified, these neighborhoods grew increasingly racially polarized.[6] By the 1930s, many neighborhoods, such as Mechanicsville and East Knoxville, had attracted large African-American populations. Institutions like Knoxville College, the city’s only Historically Black College, anchored these communities around central hubs of education and culture.[7]

The Tennessee Valley Authority[edit]

Conditions in Knoxville did not improve until the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in 1933, one of President Franklin Roosevelt’s hallmark New Deal programs. TVA functioned as a federally owned corporation, providing jobs to residents of the Valley, building dams to control the volatile Tennessee River, and assisting small-scale farmers in crop management. TVA’s creation brought stability and modernization to one of the poorest and most isolated regions of the country, though its means were not without controversy. While TVA’s agricultural research and advances in farm technology aided many poor, rural farmers, its dams displaced thousands and flooded entire communities.[8]

The construction of dams during the New Deal Era was not isolated to East Tennessee. Federal agencies like the Bureau of Reclamation had been regulating water in the West through the construction of hydroelectric dams since 1902.[9] In addition to their job creation benefits, dam construction was popular because it encouraged settlement of rural, potentially resource-rich regions by stabilizing volatile waterways. Naturalists objected to the construction of these dams because they disrupted native ecosystems by blocking marine migration patterns and creating polluted manmade lakes.[10]

Flooding was common in Knoxville until the creation of TVA.

Tennessee Valley farmers relied on TVA for agricultural research. Historically, East Tennessee could not support large-scale, plantation-like agriculture. Most farmers who lived in the Valley grew staple crops and therefore relied on their harvests to simply survive. TVA’s groundbreaking fertilizer research allowed farmers to maximize the efficiency of their land and increase their annual yields.

TVA also aided in the war effort. Fertilizer research sponsored by TVA could be applied to bomb manufacturing during World War II. Throughout the Cold War, TVA maintained a strong relationship with the Department of Defense in the development of new military technology. [11]

Notes[edit]

  1. Rucker, Lola. Interview with Newman, Dean, Edwards, and Aswell. Federal Writers’ Project Papers. Knoxville, 1938.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Wheeler, William Bruce. Knoxville, Tennessee: A Mountain City in the New South (Knoxville: 2005), 57.
  5. Ibid. 58
  6. Jack Neely, “King’s Alley,” Knoxville Mercury (Knoxville, TN), Oct. 1, 2015.
  7. Robert Booker, “Mechanicsville Story Offers Rich History,” Knoxville News-Sentinel (Knoxville, TN), July 22, 2008.
  8. Frances Edna Bishop, "History of the TVA Libraries: From Book Boxes to Computers," Tennessee Libraries 59, no. 1 (2009).
  9. "A Very Brief History," United States Bureau of Reclamation, Oct. 15, 2015. http://www.usbr.gov/history/borhist.html
  10. Frances Edna Bishop, "History of the TVA Libraries: From Book Boxes to Computers," Tennessee Libraries 59, no. 1 (2009).
  11. Ezzell, Patricia Bernard. Encyclopedia of Alabama, Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama, 2009. http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-2380 (accessed Oct. 15, 2015).

References[edit]

1. "A Very Brief History," United States Bureau of Reclamation, Oct. 15, 2015.

2. Bishop, Frances Edna. "History of the TVA Libraries: From Book Boxes to Computers," Tennessee Libraries 59, no. 1 (2009).

3. Booker, Robert. “Mechanicsville Story Offers Rich History,” Knoxville News-Sentinel (Knoxville, TN), July 22, 2008.

4. Ezzell, Patricia Bernard. Encyclopedia of Alabama, Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama, 2009.

5. Neely, Jack. "King's Alley." Knoxville Mercury (Knoxville, TN), Oct. 1, 2015.

6. Rucker, Lola. Interview with Newman, Dean, Edwards, and Aswell. Federal Writers’ Project Papers. Knoxville, 1938.

7. Wheeler, William Bruce. Knoxville: A Mountain City in the New South. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 2005.