Quilts, Social Engineering, and Black Power in the Tennessee Valley

Rose Marie Philips Thomas, Lazy Man, 1934. Quilt designed by Ruth Clement Bond, from Michigan State University Museum, East Lansing, Michigan. Photograph by Pearl Yee Wong.

Return to issue

Quilts, Social Engineering, and Black Power in the Tennessee Valley

by Janneken Smucker
Southern Cultures, Vol. 28, No. 1: Crafted

“These objects were not gifts of gratitude, but gifts intended to influence policy and practice.”

On a September evening in 1934, Dr. J. Max Bond, the highest ranking African American official of the Tennessee Valley Authority, delivered an address to the Personnel Division Conference of the TVA. The federally owned TVA had launched the previous year, promising to bring social planning and electricity to the many rural and impoverished residents of parts of Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Kentucky. Bond discussed the TVA‘s wage disparities between Black and white workers, and asserted that the lower wages paid to African American laborers resulted in lower corresponding wages paid to whites who had previously done the same jobs. He further stated that if Black workers received higher wages, their buying power would increase, further stimulating the region’s economy.

RELATED CONTENT