Thursday, September 10, 2009

Green Pastures

When he visited North Carolina in September 1936, President Franklin Roosevelt was at the height of his popularity. Senator Josiah Bailey rode in the presidential motorcades and witnessed the outpouring of affection for FDR. Bailey wrote to the President’s secretary that people “have great expectations of him and he always adds to them.” The senator wanted FDR to know “that his visit to Western North Carolina was the best thing that has happened to that section of our State in a hundred years.”

One day after he traveled through Cherokee and Sylva, FDR was in Asheville [September 10, 1936]. Most stores and businesses closed and 50,000 people lined the streets to catch a glimpse of him. Around midday, he made a few extemporaneous remarks:

Yesterday and today I am carrying out a promise to myself made nearly thirty years ago, because it was nearly thirty years ago that I was last in Asheville. In those days I said to myself that I wanted to come back. I wanted to see all this marvelous country and go up into these Great Smoky Mountains. I suppose in those days I could not have gotten there in an automobile or even in a horse and buggy.

So I came on this pleasure trip, and it has been a pleasure every single minute. I have been tremendously impressed with what we are doing in opening up the Smokies through this great national park. I am not the only one impressed, because the number of visitors up there in the park has so far outstripped road building and facilities that it is a problem as to how to handle the people.

As some of you perhaps know, there is nothing in Nature I am as fond of as a tree. Here in North Carolina and across the line in Tennessee we have without question the most wonderful tree growth in all the United States—trees that perhaps are not quite so big as some of the trees of the Pacific Coast, but I am told by all the experts and scientists- you might call them brain trusters—that there are more varieties of trees and shrubbery and flowers down here than anywhere else.

I hope to come back in the years to come, either as a Government servant or as a private citizen—it makes very little difference which. I want to come back and spend some time seeing the new roads that are going to be opened, seeing more of this wonderful part of the United States. And I am quite sure that millions of other Americans are.

En route to the Green Pastures Rally in Charlotte, via Lake Lure, the Presidential party saw thousands of people lining the roads to cheer him on. In North Carolina During the Great Depression, Anita Price Davis relates the “disaster” that occurred in Shelby. Thousands of people had been waiting for hours along Warren Street, where Signs and banners had been plastered along Warren Street, and thousands of people had been waiting for hours to greet the President. At the last minute, though, the motorcade took an unexpected detour along Marion Street, avoiding the crowds.

Afterwards, Shelby native and former governor Max Gardner asked FDR what had happened. Roosevelt explained that while approaching Shelby, he notified the patrolman in the lead escort that he needed to “void his kidneys” in a bottle that he always carried in the car, and so, they took the first street that would allow FDR some privacy. While he must have felt greatly relieved, the citizens of Shelby felt greatly disappointed and bewildered.

Finally, arriving in Charlotte and taking the podium at Memorial Stadium, FDR used Biblical references to inspire the crowd:

Notice that the rainbow shines in the sky; and it is a fitting climax to two of the most delightful days that I have ever spent in my life. …

I am told that this meeting is a Green Pastures Meeting. And the showers that we have passed through today prove that the pastures of North Carolina are green.

Green pastures! What a memory those words call forth! In all our schooling, in every part of the land, no matter to what church we happen to belong, the old Twenty-third Psalm is in all probability better known to men, women and children than any other poem in the English language.

And in this great lyric, what do we best remember? Two lines:
"He maketh me to lie down in green pastures;
He leadeth me beside the still waters."
Green pastures! Millions of our fellow Americans, with whom I have been associating in the past two weeks, out on the Great Plains of America, live with prayers and hopes for the fulfillment of what those words imply. Still waters! Millions of other Americans, with whom I also have been associated of late, live with prayers and hopes either that the floods may be stilled—floods that bring with them destruction and disaster to fields and flocks, to homesteads and cities—or else they look for the Heaven-sent rains that will fill their wells, their ponds and their peaceful streams. …

My friends, it is because I have spent so much of these latter years in this Southland, and because l have come to know its fine people, its brave history, its many problems, that I speak not as a stranger to you who are gathered here from seven States.

I have seen the denuding of your forests; I have seen the washing away of your topsoil; I have slid into the ditch from your red clay highways. I have taken part in your splendid efforts to save your forests, to terrace your lands, to harness your streams and to push hard-surfaced roads into every county in every State….

No man, no woman, no family can hope in any part of the country to attain security in a city on starvation wages any more than they can hope on a farm to attain security on starvation crop prices. I do not have to tell you, who live in any of these Southern States, all of which have factories in them, that a family that tries to subsist on a total wage income of three or four hundred dollars a year is just as much a drag on the prosperity of America as the farm family that seeks to subsist on a yearly cash income of a hundred or two hundred dollars a year. …

I speak to you today as common-sense American men and women. You will agree that from the material aspect, based on the sound concept of restoring purchasing power and prosperity to the great mass of our citizens, this Nation's consuming power has been and is being rapidly restored. I trust, therefore, that you will likewise agree that better conditions on the farms, better conditions in the factories, better conditions in the homes of America are leading us to that beautiful spiritual figure of the old psalmist—green pastures and still waters.

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