The day FDR came to town
It was a clear Sunday morning in November 1934 when the train pulled into Union Station in Tupelo.
On many mornings, such an event might not have drawn much attention. But this was not just any ordinary morning, and this train was not carrying just any ordinary passenger.
The thousands of people who had come to town this Sunday weren't there to go to church. They had come to see President Franklin D. Roosevelt visit the first U.S. city to enter into a contract for electric power furnished by the Tennessee Valley Authority.
That city was Tupelo, and Roosevelt had said he would come for a visit. His trip made Nov. 18, 1934, a day spectators would never forget.
It was a big day for much of the South when Mississippi Congressman John Rankin co-authored the Tennessee Valley Authority Act in 1933, and Tupelo entered into a contract with TVA for low-cost electric power later that year. FDR's visit was his way of saying "thank you" and also an opportunity to plug the TVA program.
Excitement surrounding the president's visit had already begun to build when Secret Service agents arrived in Tupelo five days before the scheduled visit. By the time Roosevelt's train stopped in Corinth for the night on Nov. 17, the town of Tupelo was overflowing with people.
And by the time the first U.S. president to visit Mississippi in more than 20 years arrived at about 8 a.m. Sunday morning, it would have been hard to squeeze in many more onlookers along the route Roosevelt's motorcade would take from the train station.
Bands from Mississippi College, Ole Miss, the Tupelo American Legion and Mississippi State College were there to provide a welcome, along with Gov. Mike Connor, Cong. John Rankin, Sen. Pat Harrison, Tupelo Mayor J.P. Nanney and other officials. As the presidential entourage left the station, it was swallowed up in the huge crowds that lined Spring and Main streets.
The official party made its way on to Green Street, and then to Highway 45 as it traveled to the Tupelo Subsistence Homesteads (now the housing located behind the Natchez Trace Parkway headquarters), a project of particular interest to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. The homesteads, one of three in the state, offered homeowners 30 years to pay off a $3,000 investment for the home and land.
It took 30 minutes to make the 4 1/2-mile trip to the homestead, including a brief delay when FDR wanted to stop and listen to a group of black musicians from the Lee County Industrial Training School. Once at the housing development, Mrs. Roosevelt visited the home of Mr. and Mrs. James C. Barron and their children: Jimmy, age 11, and Mary, 9.
From there, the party went to Robins Field in Tupelo, where the president made an impromtu speech to a crowd estimated between 75,000 and 100,000 people. Following the speech, Roosevelt and his group returned to the train and by 10 a.m. were on the way to his home in Warm Springs, Ga.
Lee County is a special place with a long and colorful history. Every month, Lee County Neighbors takes a closer look at "Where We've Been" with a feature story on some aspect of our county's past. If you know of any part of Lee County history that would be of interest to our readers, we want to hear from you. Please write us at Lee County Neighbors, P.O. Box 909, Tupelo, MS 38802.