Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 29th Visit to Georgia
November 21 - December 8, 1935
Roosevelt’s duties again limited him to one Warm Springs visit late in 1935. [see photo] This year saw the implementation of the Rural Electrification Administration, another agency created by Roosevelt largely based on his observations of the need for electricity on farms in rural Georgia. Roosevelt firmly believed rural life was better than urban life, and hoped to stem the tide of rural to urban migration. One method of doing this was to institute pioneering rural communities, in which the families would live in a kind of communal existence on individual farms, while sharing in the workload. One of these communities was Pine Mountain Valley, near Warm Springs. While these communities were never the success Roosevelt hoped for, Pine Mountain Valley did manage to operate until 1945. Roosevelt visited the fledgling community on his 1935 visit and was please with what he witnessed.
Yet Roosevelt did not ignore the urban situation. Under the auspices of the WPA, the nation’s first public housing project – Techwood Homes – was constructed in Atlanta. Roosevelt was on hand to dedicate the project on Nov. 29:
“Within sight of you today stands a tribute to useful work under government supervision - the first slum clearance and low-rent housing project. Here, at the request of the citizens of Atlanta, we have cleared out nine square blocks of antiquated, squalid dwellings for years a detriment to this community. Today these hopeless dwellings are gone and in their places we see the bright, cheerful buildings of the Techwood Housing Project. Within a very short time people who never before could get a decent roof over their heads will live here in reasonable comfort and healthful, worthwhile surroundings…” Source: Franklin M. Garrett, Atlanta and Environs, (University of Georgia Press, Athens, 1969), p. 909
There was definitely a celebratory air on this visit to Atlanta; the Techwood dedication was but a small part of the festivities of a “Welcome Home” day for Roosevelt. Countless numbers turned out to welcome him, and more than fifty thousand heard him speak at Grant Field. Several of the “homecoming” tickets are shown on this page.
Not so pleasing to Roosevelt were the words and actions of Georgia governor Eugene Talmadge. Talmadge was a fervent opponent of the New Deal, and took his dislike of Roosevelt’s policies to a personal level. In an interview with the New York Times in 1935, he said:
“The greatest calamity to this country is that President Roosevelt can’t walk around and hunt up people to talk to. The only voice to reach his wheelchair were the cries of the ‘gimme crowd.’” Source: Theo Lippman, Jr., The Squire of Warm Springs: F.D.R. in Georgia 1924-1945, (Playboy Press, Chicago, 1977), p. 178.
On another occasion Talmadge said that people could not respect “a man who can’t walk a two by four.” Source: Theo Lippman, Jr., The Squire of Warm Springs: F.D.R. in Georgia 1924-1945, (Playboy Press, Chicago, 1977), p. 178. Talmadge’s insults had no effect on Roosevelt or his policies, and did little to dampen Georgians’ enthusiastic support of Roosevelt.
While domestic issues still dominated the thoughts of Roosevelt and the country, he was not ignorant of the situation developing in Europe. Hitler’s rise to power had coincided with Roosevelt’s own. In fact, while Roosevelt was visiting Warm Springs for the first time in 1924, Hitler was resting comfortably in minimum security in Landesburg prison, writing Mein Kampf. The Nazi party had received a majority of German votes in 1932, when Roosevelt was elected president. Just over a month before Roosevelt’s inauguration, Hitler had become chancellor of Germany. Writing from Warm Springs on December 2, Roosevelt discussed the German situation and the possibilities of U.S. neutrality in case of a conflict:
“… [T]here had been no real change in German policy for the last few months. It seems clear that from the point of view of the group which now controls the destinies of the German people, their policy is succeeding admirably. Germany got an acceptance, passive though it may have been, of her rearmament by land and sea… . I wish I could talk with you at length in regard to the Neutrality situation… . The crux of the matter lies in the deep question of allowing some discretion to the Chief Executive. Quite aside from any connection with the League [of Nations], the President should have some discretion… . Complete stoppage of all arms material in the broadest sense in case of a European conflict can be attained, and last summer’s law tends in that direction. Meanwhile, the country is being fairly well educated, and I hope that next January I can get an even stronger law, leaving, however, some authority to the President. I do not know that the United States can save civilization but at least by our example we can make people think and give them the opportunity of saving themselves. The trouble is that the people of Germany, Italy and Japan are not given the privilege of thinking.” Source: Elliott Roosevelt (ed.), F.D.R.: His Personal Letters 1928-1945, (Duell, Sloan and Pearce, New York, 1950), p. 530-1.
Roosevelt may have given lip service to neutrality, but as this letter makes clear, he was under no illusion as to which side he supported in the inevitable European conflict, and he desired some “discretion” to help the fellow democracies in Europe.