On Sunday, Nov. 18, 1934 Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke in Tupelo.
More than 75,000 stayed home from church that Sunday not so much because the president was in town, but because of his message of “hope.” Mississippi and the nation were struggling with an economy stagnated beyond belief. Unemployment was at an unprecedented high. Jobs were virtually non-existent. Banks failed daily. Prices of farm products fell to an all-time low. People waited patiently in soup lines for a handout of food.
Families lost their homes and businesses because they could not pay their property taxes. F.D.R. had come up with what he referred to as the New Deal. Part of that New Deal was making Tupelo the first city to gain an electrical power grid, and thus becoming the first TVA city.
A driving force behind Tupelo getting this honor was John Rankin, a Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1921 to 1953, who was dedicated to bringing electricity to rural Mississippi.
Another key part was the Tupelo Homesteads, located near the Natchez Trace Parkway, which were conceived in 1933 by the Division of Subsistence Homesteads, and construction began in 1934.
Twenty of the original 25 remained in 1996.
President Roosevelt had breakfast abroad the train that Sunday morning, before being ushered through the streets of Tupelo in an open-air limousine. People were pushing against ropes which had been strung along Spring, Main and Green Streets for a chance to catch a glimpse of F.D.R. tipping his trademark hat.
Accompanying the president were his wife, Eleanor, Gov. Conner, Secretary Ickes and Mr. Lilienthal. They visited the houses at the Natchez Trace first. Eleanor was introduced by Rankin to the ladies who lived inside of one of the homes.
The lady would say, “She was so sweet and had a sweet disposition that I was perfectly at ease the moment after I was introduced.”
Then the caravan made its way to Robbins Field where four bands, including the Mississippi State Band, were set to play before the president and thousands who had turned out to hear of this “hope.” F.D.R. had toured the south before, although he’d never been to Tupelo before, and he contrasted what he saw then to what he saw that Sunday.
“The great outstanding thing to me for these past three days has been the change in the looks on people's faces. It has not been only a physical thing. It has not been the contrast between what was actually a scarcity of raiment or a lack of food two years ago and better clothing and more food today. Rather it is a something in people's faces. I think you understand what I mean. There was not much hope in those days. People were wondering what was going to come to this country. And yet today I see not only hope, but I see determination and a knowledge that all is well with the country, and that we are Coming back.”
His speech was warmly received, mainly because residents were now able to purchase electricity at some of the lowest rates in the United States. The federal government provided a loan of $114,632 at a 3 percent inter
est rate to ACEPA, which it used to fund the stringing of power lines and other start-up costs.
By 10 a.m. he had reboarded the train and was headed to Birmingham and then to Warm Springs, GA. It was Warm Springs where Roosevelt returned to use the therapeutic waters every year, except 1942, from his first visit in 1924 until his death there in 1945.