Alabama Scene

Henry Ford's vision for Alabama

Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent E-mail:

Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent E-mail:

In 1921, Henry Ford, accompanied by Thomas Edison, came to North Alabama with a vision of transforming it into “a 75-mile city” from Muscle Shoals eastward. Ford also said he would employ a million workers. The news of Ford’s plan caused a real-estate panic.

Speculators began buying up land along the Tennessee River in Colbert County and parceling it out in 25-foot lots and putting in sidewalks and street lights. People from all over the United States bought lots, sight unseen, during this time.

Ford’s offer to buy Wilson Dam, the lynchpin of his idea, for $5 million was turned down by Congress. The dam had cost the government almost $50 million to build.

However, Congress, under the influence of Sen. George Norris of Nebraska, later formed the Tennessee Valley Authority to develop the dam as well as the entire river valley. Norris argued that the public, rather than private companies should receive the benefits from the government’s investment in Wilson Dam.

Today, as U. S. automakers General Motors, Chrysler and Ford teeter on the edge of bankruptcy, perhaps Alabama and other Southern states, the new center of the auto manufacturing industry are the latter day beneficiaries of Sen. Norris’s protection of the public dollar.

Others, however, would argue, as does nationally syndicated columnist Pat Buchanan, that Alabama has poured nearly three-quarters of a billion public dollars into the construction of those manufacturing plants and that other states in the South have done likewise.

It was just a half-century ago that the coal miners and small farmers began leaving Alabama for work in the auto plants in Detroit. It now looks as if that migration to the North has shifted to reverse and Ford’s vision may be in its genesis nine decades after his visit to Florence and Muscle Shoals.

Around Alabama

The Alabama Department of Education has lifted its mandate that school systems have a month’s operating expenses in the bank. With proration, there was little choice, a department spokesman said.

The state Department of Education had little choice after Gov. Bob Riley ordered budget cuts. The strategy just won’t work while the education budget is in proration, according to assistant state superintendent Craig Pouncey.

State workers won’t get an extra holiday this Friday, the day after Christmas according to Gov. Riley. Normally the governor declares an extra day for state employees after Thanksgiving and Christmas.

However, this year, because of a downturn in state revenues, the governor has decided that the $3 million it would cost the state to maintain such departments as corrections, which must be fully staffed every day, that no extra holiday will be granted.

Don’t spend too much time worrying about state workers though. They will get 14 paid holidays this year, 13 days of paid sick leave, and annual leave that ranges from 13 days for those with under five years of service to 29 days for those workers with 25 years or more.

Merry Christmas from Dixie

My favorite secular Christmas song is one penned by Teddy Gentry, Randy Owen, Jeff Cook, and Mark Herndon of the group “Alabama.” In case your favorite radio station hasn’t played it enough this year and you’ve forgotten the words they go like this:
“By now in New York City, there’s snow on the ground
And out in California, the sunshine’s falling down
And, maybe down in Memphis, Graceland’s all in lights
And in Atlanta, Ga., there’s peace on earth tonight.”
“Christmas in Dixie, it’s snowin’ in the pines
Merry Christmas from Dixie, to everyone tonight
“It’s windy in Chicago. The kids are out of school
There’s magic in Motown. The city’s on the move
In Jackson, Miss., to Charlotte, Caroline
And all across the nation, it’s the peaceful Christmas
“And from Fort Payne, Alabama
God bless y’all…We love ya…Happy New Year…Good night
Merry Christmas…Merry Christmas tonight”
And my parting observation is: “Yes Santa, the Capital City remains solidly positioned as the ‘Cradle of Conspiracy,'” in addition to its other designations.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah.