Monday, September 26, 2011

Section One: OAK RIDGE

Chapter One


Sometime around the turn of the 20th century, according to a number of documented accounts of eyewitnesses, an eccentric spiritualist by the name of John Hendrix told a group of his neighbors at an old country crossroads store that he had experienced a prophetic vision of what the future held for Bear Creek Valley. He informed them that their remote rural area would one day be filled with a vast complex of buildings to help win the greatest war every to be waged and that a city would be built along Black Oak Ridge.

“The center of authority will be on a spot mid-way between Sevier Tadlock’s farm and Joe Pyatt’s place. I've seen it," he told them. "It's coming."

John Hendrix (“The Prophet of Oak Ridge”) died in 1915. He was only 49 years old. He is buried on a hilltop in a subdivision of Oak Ridge named “Hendrix Creek.”

I Owe My Existence

As far back as I can remember my sister Alice has insisted that I owe my existence to her: had she not persistently and persuasively begged my parents for a little baby brother, I would not have been conceived, much less born.

According to our mother my sister did in fact plead “relentlessly” for a little baby brother. Nevertheless, I maintain that I am more beholden to Adolph Hitler, Hirohito, Albert Einstein and Franklin Delano Roosevelt than I am to my sister.

In early August of 1939 after hearing from Danish physicist Neils Bohr that Nazi Germany was trying to develop a nuclear weapon, Albert Einstein (a pacifist), in collaboration with and encouragement from physicists Leo Szilard and Eugene Wigner, sent a letter to President Roosevelt. Expressing his concerns, Einstein advised the president that the United States should begin its own nuclear weapons research program immediately. That same year a small, highly classified research program, later to be known as the Manhattan Project, was initiated by the president to determine the feasibility of producing a viable nuclear bomb.

When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the top-secret project became an urgent national priority. In September 1942, Colonel Leslie R. Groves was made a brigadier general and appointed military director of the fledgling Atomic Bomb Project for the US Army Corps of Engineers. He replaced the first director, Col. James Marshall, who it seemed lacked the necessary impetus to get the project moving beyond the research stage.

General Groves, while overseeing the construction of the Pentagon in 1940, had developed a reputation as a ruthless, yet highly skilled and intelligent engineer with tremendous drive, energy, and organizational skills. As director of the Manhattan Project, Groves soon acquired an enormous amount of power, involving himself in nearly every aspect of the bomb’s development. All three of the principle sites throughout the country that were to be used for theoretical research and materials production were chosen by Gen. Groves (Site-Y in Los Alamos, New Mexico, Site-W in Hanford, Washington and Site-X in Oak Ridge, Tennessee).

Within days of taking charge of the project, Gen. Groves ordered agents from the Army Corps of Engineers to secure 56,200 acres of a quiet remote ridge and farming valley in East Tennessee. A thousand families from five small rural communities (Wheat, Scarboro, Elza, Robertsville and New Hope) who had lived on the land for generations were given little explanation for the government's sudden, intrusive and forced acquisition of their land.

Government agents began swarming the countryside, pounding on doors, citing the War Powers Act, informing owners that the government was taking their homes, their farms and land. The average price was a little more than $50 an acre and it was not negotiable. Some families were given only two weeks to leave, no more than 30 days. Some were still in their homes when demolition crews arrived.

Abruptly, without warning, thousands of highly educated people as well as highly skilled and experienced construction workers from all over the United States and other parts of the world ascended upon that remote rural area. It was an area where change had always been resisted, where most folks lived in houses with no electricity or indoor plumbing and whose children rarely received more than a seventh-grade education.

Government recruiters had combed nearly every state in the nation for human resources. They went to shipyards, steel mills and laboratories, hiring electricians, welders, carpenters and teachers. They called on the nation’s leading industries – Union Carbide, DuPont, Tennessee Eastman, Monsanto, Alcoa, and Westinghouse – to supervised the work. They raided university faculties and employed graduate students from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Stanford, Cal Berkeley, MIT, and the University of Chicago. During the war, there was a greater concentration of PhDs at Oak Ridge than anywhere else on earth. Most of those working in the enrichment facilities had high school diplomas and thousands more had college degrees.  Hardly anyone was over 40. The average age was 27. And, the majority of them were single.

As they began to apply their skills to build a series of secret facilities, no one, except for a small group of nuclear scientists, knew the mission of the project – to separate, produce and purify large quantities of uranium-235 from the natural uranium-238 for use in developing a nuclear bomb.

The site was chosen for several reasons: the small population of these rural farming communities made the acquisition of the land affordable; the long valley was naturally partitioned, allowing each facility to be separated by a series of ridges, providing security and protection from both external attacks and internal nuclear disasters; the area was accessible by both rail and highway; and it had an abundance of clean water from the Clinch River, including hydro-electricity from the nearby recently completed Norris Dam by the Tennessee Valley Authority.

On December 2, 1942, two months after Gen. Groves took charge of the project, in a squash court beneath the old Stagg Field at the University of Chicago, a group of researchers led by Enrico Fermi achieved the world's first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction.

Two months later, on the second of February 1943, along Bear Creek Valley between Black Oak Ridge and the Clinch River, construction began on Y-12, the code name for the facility that would enrich uranium using electromagnetic isotopes. Nine months later, Y-12 began separating uranium-235 from uranium-238.

Nine miles to the east, on Nov. 4, 1943, 14 months after the first parcel of land had been purchased in Tennessee, the world's first full-scale graphite nuclear reactor went critical at X-10. A year and half later the gaseous diffusion separation plant (K-25) also began turning out weapons-grade uranium, U-235.

In just 30 months, three plant sites were constructed within what was known as the Clinton Engineer Works (CEW) and the secret city of Oak Ridge, unable to be found on any map until after the war had ended, emerged as the fifth largest city in Tennessee, with a population approaching 75,000. By November 1944, Oak Ridge was using 20 percent more electricity than New York City and had the sixth-largest bus system in the nation transporting workers to and from their jobs.

Security was tight. The huge CEW complex (including production sites and residential areas) comprising 96 square miles was completely surrounded by a barbwire fence with guard towers and seven gates. Everyone 12 years and older were required to wear a government identification badge. Access to the city was restricted to workers and residents with authorized government IDs and passes. A thousand armed security personnel were manning the gates, patrolling the Clinch River and hundreds of miles of fencing. It was imperative that the complex not be infiltrated.

The Clinton Engineer Works: The Y-12 electromagnetic separation plant (upper right), the X-10 plutonium production reactor (center), and the K-25 gaseous diffusion plant (lower left) with the "Happy Valley" housing area.


Twelve years earlier in Atlanta, Georgia, my parents met, fell in love and were married on January 2, 1934 (1-2-34). At the time my mother was a photographic retoucher and colorist.

My father was the chief floor judge and trainer for a series of Dance Marathons (promoted primarily as Walkathons) which had begun during the later part of the roaring 1920s.

Throughout the 1930s and the Great Depression, these dance endurance contests persisted to some degree as partially staged performances and genuine endurance events, often pitting a mix of local hopefuls and seasoned professional marathoners against one another. A 25-cent admission fee entitled an audience member to watch the show as long as he or she wished.

During their glory days, though they were very controversial, Dance Marathons were among America’s most widely attended forms of live entertainment. By the time they began to fade in popularity in the late 1930s nearly every American city of 50,000 people or more had hosted at least one dance marathon.

The endurance contest business directly employed tens of thousands of people during the Great Depression – as promoters, masters of ceremonies, floor judges, trainers, nurses as well as contestants. Indirectly, Danceathons also helped to create thousands of jobs for local economies, keeping small businesses, newspapers and radio stations viable with their promotional and advertising dollars, paying for license fees, renting countless venues,  providing local sponsors publicity for their businesses, and utilizing local food concessions to feed spectators, employees and contestants.

With Atlanta as home base, my parents began traveling throughout the United States, primarily in the South, Northeast and Midwest working for the contest endurance entertainment business. My father was the chief floor judge and my mother a “sitter” or nurse’s aide.

It was during this time they met and became friends with a 19-year-old comedian, Red Skelton and his first wife, Edna. Red was the emcee of the show/contest and used my father and other floor judges as “goats” for his antics. Red would do most anything for a laugh – from drenching my dad with ice water to shooting him with a blank pistol. The last time my parents saw Red and Edna was in Waukegan, Illinois, in 1935. As they hugged goodbye, Red told Dad, “Chink, the next time you’ll see me I’ll be in the movies.” His statement was prophetic.

Between his Danceathon engagements, my father was also a professional pugilist, an established and reputable heavyweight prizefighter. He was managed by Maw and Paw Stribling, who were the parents of Young Stribling.

“Scrib” as he was known to his family and friends was one of the great heavyweights of the 1920’s and early 1930s. He died on October 3, 1933, when his motorcycle was hit by an automobile. At his death my father was his chief sparring partner.

Though he was only 28 he had knocked out more opponents and fought more professional rounds than any other fighter in history – a total of 286 recorded bouts, losing only 12. He was never knocked out except when he lost to Max Schmeling, the heavyweight champion of the world, on July 3, 1931, by a technical knockout in the last 14 seconds of the 15th round. The bout was the first major fight to be broadcast live over national radio.

During his short career, Scrib set numerous records, including most fights by a heavyweight (286), most fights by a heavyweight in a single year (55), most knockouts by a heavyweight (127), as well as the fewest number of times ever to be knocked out (1) and that was a TKO. Gentlemen Jim Corbett called Young Stribling "the best heavyweight fighter for his pounds that ever lived."

In the fall of 1935, after suffering several months with malaria and unable to find work, my father jump a series of fright trains west to Boulder City, Nevada, to work on the massive construction project of what was then called Boulder Dam. It was there that my father fought his last professional fight.

One Saturday night after hearing about a nearby boxing event outside of Las Vegas, my father drove over with several coworkers. While hanging out backstage visiting with some old boxing buddies, news arrived that the principal contestant for the main event had been injured in an automobile accident and would be unable to fight. Someone told the promoter that my father was there and suggested that he might be willing to fill in for the disabled fighter.

Out of shape, still suffering from the aftereffects of malaria, my father consented to fight for four rounds of the eight-round bout and give the audience a good show, but would take a dive in the fifth round if he lasted that long by leaving himself open for a knock out. His opponent agreed to the fix.

When the bell to end the fifth round rang my father was still standing. His opponent had not delivered a convincing punch. My father was exhausted and angry. Fighting now only on adrenalin, he continued to leave himself open to take the dive. By the middle of the sixth round, in order to make his opponent angry, my father spit in his face. Still no convincing blow was delivered. When the fight ended in the eighth round my father won a unanimous decision.

Missing my mother, my father, after working six months on the dam, drove back to Atlanta with a coworker. He soon found work as an apprentice with the Georgia Power Company in Atlanta and became a highly skilled electrician, specializing in the laying of underground cable.

The experience and competence he acquired served him well. When many other men and women were standing in soup and bread lines unable to find work, my father with help from his union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), was able to secure temporary positions primarily in the South, in Tennessee cities like Chattanooga, Memphis, Kingsport and Spring City. Traveling with his young wife and infant daughter, towing their small trailer home behind them, he earned a living wage for his family when millions of Americans remain destitute.

In the fall of 1943, after returning to Atlanta from a job in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, my father through the IBEW heard about a project near Harriman, Tennessee, that needed experienced electrical workers and specifically underground cablemen. Leaving my mother and sister in Atlanta with relatives, he drove 200 miles north to inquire about employment. He was hired on the spot.

For several weeks my father lived with his brother-in-law, Loran Jennings, his sister, Mary, and their two children, Mary (Tootsie) and Jerry, in Knoxville, Tennessee. During that time my father commuted to work and back nearly 90 miles a day. On September 21, 1943 my father wrote to my mother:
Hello Honey,

I received your letter today . . . sure was glad to here from you. I’ve been waiting to see what this job turns out to be. Because of the weather I have only worked 4 days since I got here. It has been raining a lot. I’m working for $1.50 an hr. This will be the biggest cable job I have ever seen. It will be about 2 months before the cable splicing starts.

Go ahead and paint the trailer. I will come and get you in about 2 weeks and you and Mary can go over to Harriman and see about a school and a place to put the trailer. It is 43 miles one way from here to work. Harriman is only 17 miles from the job.

I will try to send you some money Friday night. I hope I will be able to work tomorrow.

Give the booger a big hug from me.

Lots of love to you both,

Within weeks, my father drove to Atlanta to move my mother and my five-year-old sister, Alice, to Harriman, Tennessee. For six months they lived in a trailer park in Harriman. It was there I was conceived, thanks in no small way to the fact that my father, at last, had steady work and a good paying job. In short, I was conceived not because of my sister’s constant nagging for a baby brother, but because my parents could finally afford another child, thanks to the government’s secret efforts to develop a nuclear weapon – an atomic bomb.

Eventually, in the Spring of 1944, they move to a temporary community that came to be known as 'Happy Valley', an on-site construction camp near K-25, consisting of trailer homes and hutments built by the Army Corp of Engineers that in time would housed over 15,000 people.

Friday morning, November 24, 1944, the day after Thanksgiving, I was born in the newly built Oak Ridge Hospital.

Chapter Two

 Happy Valley

After being discharged from Oak Ridge hospital, following my birth, mother and I returned home to our trailer. It was located near the east end of the K-25 construction camp, dubbed ‘Happy Valley’ by the workers and families living there. The camp was south of and across Gallaher Ferry Road from the K-25 Gaseous Diffusion Plant, 11 miles west of Oak Ridge.

Life at the camp was fairly primitive when the first 450 hutments were built for construction workers in the fall of 1943. The square residences were 16 x 16 feet, un-insulated plywood structures with no plumbing, heated by pot-bellied stoves.

A year later when I was born the camp had become a sizeable provisional satellite city with a population larger than Clinton, Tennessee, Anderson County’s seat of government. Along with the original hutments housing 2500 construction workers, there were 900 families living in trailers, eight huge barracks accommodating both men and women in separate wings, 12 large dormitories for 1200 men and 100 ‘victory homes’.  In all, nearly 15,000 people lived in Happy Valley.

This hastily established community had a large cafeteria, several recreation halls, a movie theater, barbershop, bathhouses and even a bowling alley. In addition, there was a dispensary, a drug store, a service station and a bank. Across the road there was a Town Hall with a Post Office, Laundromat and icehouse. Several hundred yards east stood the old Wheat School that served as the education center for the children living in the camp and as a training facility for incoming Carbide supervisors.

It was there I spent the first year and half of my life. The impressions of that time are vague. I was told I was a very active and agile child even before I began walking at nine months – although not as precocious, spirited and strong-willed as my sister who began walking at six months.

The defining tale about me from that period is how I came to be called ‘Monkey.’ My seven-and-half-year-old sister, Alice, was instructed by my parents to keep an eye on me while they visited with friends in a neighboring trailer.

Positioned so that my parents could easily see us, I was put in my playpen outside our trailer. It was not long, though, before some other children distracted my sister. Seizing the moment, I used the monkey-bar hanging from my playpen to swing out of my enclosure.

When my sister returned, I was nowhere to be seen. Frantically, she began calling my name. Hearing her cries, my parents came running. The search began.

Believing that I could not have gone far since I had not, as yet, started walking, the range of their search was limited. That was a mistake. When they finally found me, six trailers away, I was still crawling with my blue and pink 'blanky'.

For over a year my father had supervised the splicing and laying of miles of underground cable throughout the massive K-25 complex. The pace of the work was unrelenting, 24 hours a day, seven days a week; the complexity and scope, unimaginable.

When completed in 1945 in just 270 days without blueprints, the gigantic U-shape structure, consisting of 50 huge connected, four-story buildings, measured a half-mile long by a 1000 feet wide. At the time, it was the largest building under one roof on the face of the earth, covering 44 square acres.

The separation process used at the K-25 gaseous diffusion plant was based on Graham’s Law, where by, molecules of a lighter isotope pass through a porous barrier more readily than the molecules of a heavier one. The process required a massive facility to house the myriad cascades of pipes, pumps and membranes through which the uranium hexafluoride gas would pass. The plant also consumed enormous amounts of electricity, while producing only minute amounts of weapons-grade material. To accommodate the electrical needs of the gaseous diffusion plant the largest steam plant in the world was designed and built next door, with a 238,000-kilowatt capacity.

The residents of Happy Valley were constantly reminded that the facilities being built across the road were crucial to ending the war and “bringing the boys home.” No one, however, except a few in top-level positions, really knew what the mission entailed. Most of the workers at K-25 knew little to nothing of or about any of the other enrichment facilities.

Security throughout the Oak Ridge reservation was extremely tight. Workers were forbidden to talk to anyone about their jobs, even to their spouse. Periodically, polygraphs were given to those in sensitive positions. Although no one knew at the time, everyone was under the watchful eye of military intelligence and government informants. There were agents everywhere watching and listening, posing as coworkers, bus drivers, shopkeepers and teachers.

There were large billboards with the Three Wise Monkeys reminding workers and residents:
What you see here
What you do here
What you hear here
When you leave here
Let it stay here
Those living in surrounding communities had no idea what was going on behind the barbwire fence and security gates. They saw trains hauling in hundreds of boxcars loaded with ore and other raw materials, yet never saw anything leave the compound.

The Manhattan Project was so secret that when FDR died on April 12, 1945, his Vice President, Harry Truman, had no knowledge of the project. It was nearly two weeks after Truman took office that he was informed of the project and its mission.

The first covert deliveries of weapons-grade uranium, u-235, left Oak Ridge for Los Alamos in the winter of 1945. The radioactive material was delivered in specially made briefcases hand-cuffed to couriers. Though the quantities of the shipments were measured in grams, by July of 1945 Los Alamos had received 30 pounds of the enriched uranium. At last, it was time for the bomb makers to test their design theories.

On July 16, 1945 the first weapons test of a nuclear explosive, nicknamed ‘The Gadget’, lit up the morning sky in a remote area of central New Mexico above the Jornada del Muerto Desert, roughly translated as 'Dead Man's Walk'. As the fireball shot upwards at 360 feet per second, the characteristic mushroom cloud blossomed at 30,000 feet. All that remained of the soil at the blast site were shards of green radioactive glass created by the heat of the explosion. The Atomic Age was born.

Eight days later, on July 24, 1945, in Potsdam, Germany, the United States and Great Britain demanded that Japan unconditionally surrender.

Four days later, Japan refused.

On August 6, 1945, President Harry S Truman made a radio announcement that the United States had dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, equivalent to 20,000 tons of TNT. During his address, Truman revealed that the atomic bomb was developed at several sites in the United States, including the secret city of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, near Knoxville.

As soon as Truman finished his address, the sounds of car horns and fire hall sirens began to wail. People spilled into the streets, dancing with one another, forming long snake lines. They were, at last, free to talk without fear of jeopardizing their unknown mission. The secret had been exposed – to them, as well as the entire world.

In a special edition that evening, the headline in the Knoxville News-Sentinel, read “ATOMIC SUPER BOMB, MADE AT OAK RIDGE, STRIKES JAPAN.” The account gave workers at Oak Ridge their first official description of the top-secret project on which they had all been working.

In his address, Truman described the development of the atomic bomb as “the greatest achievement of organized science in history” and that it should give the Japanese the necessary impetus to surrender unconditionally to Allied forces, warning that if they refused, “they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth.”

The code name for the bomb dropped on Hiroshima by the Enola Gay, a Boeing B-29 bomber, was “Little Boy”. Even though the simple gun-type nuclear bomb had never been tested, the eventual death toll was estimated to be nearly 150,000 people. The bomb’s explosive energy and massive shockwave flattened the entire city, igniting a raging firestorm and bathing every living thing within miles in deadly radiation. Sad but true, the weapons-grade uranium-235, used to make the bomb was partially processed across the road from my family’s trailer home in Happy Valley.

Despite the carnage and Truman’s warning, Japan still refused to surrender.

On August 9, 1945, ‘Fat Man’, code name for the third man-made nuclear device, a plutonium implosion-type atomic bomb much like the ‘Gadget’, was detonated over Nagasaki, Japan. Fortunately, because of poor visibility due to cloud cover, the bomb missed its intended target, diminishing the damage and death toll. Nevertheless, 39,000 innocent people were killed, instantaneously. Thousands more died later from blast injuries and radiation illness.

On August 14, 1945, Japan surrendered. At Last, World War II was over.

While the citizens of Oak Ridge and the rest of the world celebrated, the ‘Monkey’ stood erect and began to walk.

Chapter Three


The war ended three months before my first birthday. Though everyone was being told that Oak Ridge had helped to accomplish perhaps the most important scientific missions in the history of the world, I was too young to be influenced by such propaganda. Besides, the ‘Monkey’ was busy exploring the world from a new perspective and pace – no longer crawling I was running everywhere.

Swollen with pride, adults too were standing more erect. They had saved a million lives, they were told, and helped launch the Atomic Age that would one day provide an unlimited supply of energy. Within two decades homes, factories and automobiles would be powered by nuclear energy. Ships would sail the seven seas fueled by a nuclear capsule no larger than a chunk of coal. Even cancer would be cured.

They could not know what we know now: that hardly any of those claims would be realized. Instead, hundreds of billions of dollars would be spent for a nuclear arsenal large enough to destroy the world, the safe disposal of nuclear waste would remain unsolved, and the majority of us would believe nuclear power to be an unsafe alternative to our energy needs.

Yes, the jubilation did not last long. Once the horrific details of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were exposed in newspapers and Fox Movietone newsreels, the celebration and pride plummeted. With the nuclear genie out of the bottle the future looked ominous.


In 1942 the city plan, designed by the architectural and engineering firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, provided for a population of only 13,000 residents. Within a year, estimates for residential housing had increased to 45,000, escalating to 65,000 by the spring of 1945. Later that fall, the population would peaked at 75,000.

In September 1945 single- and multiple-family units, including apartments, housed nearly 29,000 residents. Dormitories held another 14,000 single men and women. The remaining population of over 32,000 lived in barracks, trailers, hutments and old farmhouses. Tens of thousands commuted from surrounding communities.

At the height of construction a house was completed every 30-minutes. Beside housing units, drug and grocery stores, barbershops, schools, theaters and a hospital had to be designed and built, including water plants, a water distribution system, sanitary plants, sewer lines and an electrical scheme. Though the normal working schedule consisted of two 10-hour shifts per day, road grading and other construction projects took place 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The scope and speed at which the construction was done challenges the imagination.

When John Merrill took charge of designing Oak Ridge, he wanted to make it easy for the city's new residents to find each other. The plan called for the city to be built on the south-facing slop of Black Oak Ridge, between Tennessee Avenue running east to west along the valley and Outer Drive along the ridge top. Beginning at the eastern end of the city, running from the valley to the ridge, avenues were given names of states, progressing alphabetically to the west, e.g., Arkansas, California, Delaware, etc.

The roads, circles and lanes extending off these avenues were given names starting with the first letter of the avenue. Roads and circles were usually through streets, while lanes were dead ends. All were constructed to follow the natural contours of the land, preserving the ecological beauty of the area.

The city was divided into three distinct neighborhoods: Elm Grove, Cedar Hill and Pine Valley. Each area had a shopping center and an elementary school within walking distance. There were five single-family home designs, ranked according to size from ‘A’ to ‘F’. Most of them were two- and three-bedroom cemesto homes made of fiberboard coated with a mixture of cement and asbestos. The majority were built on spacious wooded lots. They all had hardwood floors, fireplaces and porches, furnished with coal-fired furnaces and new electrical appliances. They were assigned according to family size and a person's importance to the project’s mission – primarily for VIPs (scientists, engineers, Army officers, doctors and those in executive/management positions).

As the population grew, small prefabricated flattop houses began to arrive on trucks from outside the gates. They had new electrical appliances, beds, coal-burning stoves, built-in bookcases and cabinets.

Electricity, water, trash pickup and coal delivery were free, as well as bus transportation throughout the reservation. During the war most streets remained dirt (mud) and gravel. There were over 150 miles of wooden boardwalks.

Though living conditions were confined, overcrowded and uncomfortable, for ‘Negro’ residents they were worst. Consistent with discriminatory practices and customs, schools and housing for Blacks were rudimentary and segregated. Blacks were assigned the worst jobs and had to ride in the back of buses. Restrooms and water fountains were segregated. The Army’s mission was to complete the project as soon as possible, not to encourage or advance social change.

Even after President Truman order the desegregation of the Armed Forces on July 26, 1946, the federal reservation remained segregated. Blacks could only live south of what is now Tuskegee Drive, known as Gamble Valley. Housing remained inadequate. Black workers and their families predominately lived in un-insulated, one-room ‘hutments’.

Black elementary school children could only attend the all-Black Scarboro Elementary School. Black high school students were bussed 50 miles round-trip to the segregated Austin High School in Knoxville.

When the war was over and the Army had left, there were attempts by the Oak Ridge city council in the early 1950s to desegregate the public schools. However, it was not until the fall of 1955 (a year after the 1954 landmark decision by the U. S. Supreme Court, declaring "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal" ) that Oak Ridge High School was finally integrated. To its credit, the city was the first in the South to integrate its public school system and did so with little resistance.

The war’s end led to a mass exodus. In three months the population of Oak Ridge dropped from 75,000 to less than 60,000. By June 1946 the population had plunged to 34,000, turning the once over crowded city into a more relaxed and settled community.

As Oak Ridge began to transition from a temporary military town to a permanent municipality, residents began to demand more authority over their lives. They wanted to be treated as citizens rather than subservient government employees. After years of working six, even seven days a week, living in cramped uncomfortable accommodations, they felt they deserved better working and living conditions.

Workers immediately began to petition for union representation. Though the military was far from enthusiastic about the postwar unionization of the Clinton Engineering Works (CEW), by the spring of 1946 it was resigned to the inevitability.

Once the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) was officially notified by the War Department that the CEW complex could be unionized, six national unions – one independent, two affiliated with the CIO and three with the AFL – sought recognition from the NLRB. The union my father belonged to, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Works (IBEW), was under the umbrella of the American Federation of Labor (AFL).

Though workers had a long list of grievances and demands, ranging from raises to compensate for wartime inflation to health and safety issues, the real struggle that summer was over which labor federation would ultimately represent them.

In the end, the 1946 NLRB elections in Oak Ridge did not lead to the promised sweeping changes at the CEW plants that workers desired. Instead, the AFL and CIO victories were merely the beginning of a long, often frustrating process of bargaining between the unions and contractors over workers compensation, seniority and working conditions.


During the winter of 1946, while waiting for a house to become available, we moved from Happy Valley to a trailer camp within the city limits of Oak Ridge. It was located on Alpaca Way, south of the Oak Ridge Turnpike and east of Gamble Valley Road.

Directly behind our trailer was a small recreational area. There were metal swings, monkey bars, seesaws, and a huge slide. Even now, after all these years, the memories of that playground for my sister who was eight at the time remain vividly nostalgic. There, in eyesight of our trailer, she was able to exercise her independent spirit and innate athleticism.

Just north of the trailer camp and the Oak Ridge Turnpike was the Oak Ridge municipal swimming pool. A year earlier the Army Corp of Engineers had lined the old Robertsville Cross Springs Lake with concrete, converting it into one of the largest spring-fed swimming pools in the nation. Inspired by the large outdoor pool, my sister over a period of days painstaking excavated near our trailer her own ‘swimming pool’. To this day she has fawn memories of playing with me in that rather large self-made mud puddle.

The grammar school my sister attended was in walking distance. Regrettably, her only recollection of the school is somewhat traumatic. One day, her second grade teacher, Mrs. Eugenia Shirley, asked to talk with her after school. Leading my sister to the girl’s restroom, Mrs. Shirley asked her if she knew who had written “Alice” on the wall? My sister vehemently denied knowing anything about it. Despite her protests, Mrs. Shirley told her that she would need to return the next day with something to scrub-off her name.

When my sister got back to our trailer that afternoon, she told our mother, indignantly, that her teacher had unfairly accused her of writing her name on the restroom wall. Mom listened carefully, observing Alice’s demeanor, and then told her that she would return to school with her the next day and talk with her teacher. She assured Alice that she would not have to make amends for something she had not done.

Immediately, my sister broke down and began to cry, admitting that she had indeed written her name on the wall. Mom’s ploy had worked and a lesson had been learned without a confrontation – a successful strategy that both our parents would use throughout our childhood.

Chapter Four


Events are the ephemera of history; they pass across its stage like fireflies, hardly glimpsed before they settle back into darkness and as often as not into oblivion. Every event, however brief, . . . lights up some dark corner or even some wide vista of history. – Fernand Braudel

Moving from Happy Valley to the City of Oak Ridge presented a vast array of new sensations and experiences. My vision of the world immediately began to expand.

During the summer of 1946, after months of waiting, while the world’s fourth atomic explosion was taking place on Bikini Atoll in the Pacific, we were finally able to move into a small two-bedroom cemesto house on Vista Lane off of Vermont Avenue. By then, most streets had been paved and the once grassless yards required mowing.

One of the first memories I have of our time on Vista Lane took place the night of December 8, 1946. Though I had just celebrated my second birthday 18 days earlier, I remember it as if it were yesterday. The night was clear and cold. The moon was full. Our next-door neighbors, the Borgers and the Dulaneys, gathered with us as everyone in the neighborhood emerged from their homes. Gradually, the right side of the moon began to disappear until t
he entire moon turned a dim dusty rusty color with a faint golden rim. It was truly a magical night, especially for Peggy Borgers who had celebrated her second birthday earlier that same day.

Peggy soon became my best friend and playmate. Over the years our families did much together. When the Borgers moved from Oak Ridge to Norris in 1949, two months later we moved to Norris.

Our childhood fantasy play included all the usual imaginings and explorations. The two most frequent themes, playing “doctor and patient” and “husband and wife”, allowed us, like most children, to satisfy our natural curiosity and examine the differences in our anatomies.

Another frequent theme of our playtime together was 'the outlaw and the sheriff'. It was during one of these episodes when I nearly lost my life in the role of the outlaw. After being arrested by Peggy, the sheriff, I was put on trial and sentenced to death by hanging. A rope was fashioned into a noose and tied to the end of our swing set. The noose was then placed around my neck, and I was ordered by the sheriff to step off the gallows. Like a half-wit I did as I was told. Suddenly, I was dangling by my neck, gasping for air. Fortunately, I was able to reposition myself back upon the swing set.

My neck felt like it was on fire. I ran to my house and into the bathroom. My mother and Mrs. Borgers, who were seated at the kitchen table, thought at the time that my rush to the bathroom only indicated that I desperately needed to pee. I quickly began splashing water on my neck. Too small to see myself in the bathroom mirror, I climbed upon the sink to examine my injuries. There was a rope burn around my neck.

Emerging from the bathroom, I tried to sneak out of the house without my neck being seen. My attempt was futile. As I headed towards the door my mother asked, “Would you and Peggy like some Kool-Aid?” When I responded with a quick incoherent “no” she knew something was not quite right.

On January 1, 1947, following intense debate, President Truman created the Atomic Energy Commission and appointed David E. Lilienthal its chairman and Robert Oppenheimer to head its General Advisory Committee. The purpose of the commission was to promote the peaceful development of atomic energy through science and technology. The creation of the commission revealed the optimism of America's nuclear monopoly.

It was not long though before the political and military friction between the United States and the Soviet Union began to heat up. On March 12, 1947, amidst the crisis of the Greek Civil War, President Truman addressed a joint session of Congress, asking for a $400 million economic aid package for Greece and Turkey.

During the address President Truman announced that the U.S. would support Greece and Turkey to prevent them from falling into the Soviet’s sphere of influence, stating that the policy of the United States would be "to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.” The Truman Doctrine marked the point at which the Cold War began, altering America's foreign policy toward the Soviet Union from a wartime alliance to one of containment.

On June 5, 1947 U. S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall announced a comprehensive plan of economic assistance to all of Europe, including Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Marshall reasoned that a strong European economy was essential to American’s continued prosperity. Unfortunately, Joseph Stalin prevented the countries of Eastern Europe from taking part in the program. He saw The Marshall Plan as a direct threat to his desire to keep Europe weak and Germany under communist control.

The implementation of The Marshall Plan from 1948 to 1952 marked the fastest period of growth in European history. Western Europe’s recovery and restructuring along democratic principles made communism less appealing. It also provided a market for American goods and most likely helped prevent a post-war recession in the United States.

Before I was born my Aunt Mary knitted me a blue and pink baby blanket. It became my security or comfort object. I never went anywhere without it, that is until I returned home empty handed one summer day in 1947 from playing outside with Peggy and some other kids in the neighborhood.

When my mother asked me “Where’s your blanky?” the indifference of my response left her stunned and bewildered. Further inquiries and interrogations of my playmates revealed no additional clues. My blanky was lost forever.

Due to my age most of the historic events of the late 1940s went unnoticed by me. However, I do recall two major historical events. I remember listening to nightly news broadcasts on the radio, heralding our efforts to break the yearlong Berlin Blockade (24 June 1948 – 12 May 1949) by the Soviet Union. I remember watching dramatic newsreel film footage at the Jackson Square Theater of the Western Allies’ airlift to break the blockade led by the United States Air Force.

I also remember the United States presidential election of 1948 when President Harry S Truman pulled off the greatest election upset in American history. I remember how thrilled my parents were when Truman beat Dewey, and the Democrats won back both houses of congress.

At birth, my parents chose not to have me circumcised, which apparently compelled my mother to take on the responsibility of reminding me throughout my childhood to push back the foreskin of my penis every time I took a bath or shower. She continued to do this (even in the presence of friends and neighbors) despite the fact that I was inadvertently circumcised during the summer of 1947 while riding my tricycle.

Believe me, though I was only two and half at the time, I remember the incident extremely well. My tricycle had a metal seat and the foreskin of my penis got caught beneath it, causing me to abruptly jump up and off the moving three-wheeled vehicle. As you can imagine my reaction ripped off a portion of the foreskin of my penis. I began to bleed profusely. Fortunately, the Oak Ridge hospital was only a few blocks away.

I distinctly remember sitting on the corner of a cold metal table peering down at the doctor. She was seated between my legs. Her voice and words were very comforting as she meticulously trimmed off the torn and tattered foreskin with a pair of surgical scissors. She must have done a superb job. I have been told a number of times over the years that I have a “pretty penis”.

It was not long before I was back in the hospital. Once again, I was riding my tricycle on the boardwalk between our house and the Chambers’ house on Pennsylvania Avenue when suddenly Raymond Chambers who was trying to pass me on his bicycle hit me from behind. This time the female physician had to remove a bicycle spoke embedded in the back of my head.

As far back as I can remember the arts and entertainment were always an integral part of our family life. Our parents saw them as valuable and beneficial to our mental health and well-being.

Most evenings were spent sitting around our old Zenith radio and record player listening to a variety of shows – mainly drama, mystery, comedy and big band musical variety programs. Eventually, as I grew older my favorite two programs were The Shadow and The Jack Benny Show.

Every Sunday evening we would listen to The Shadow. It always began with "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!" followed by a sinister “Hekhekhekhekhek”.

The Shadow was an invincible crime fighter, possessing many gifts which enabled him to overcome his enemies. Besides his tremendous strength, he was a master of hypnosis, which allowed him to "cloud men's minds" and escape detection.

In the radio drama he concealed his existence by adopting the identity of Lamont Cranston, a tall, dark, handsome and wealthy young man about town. Cranston’s girlfriend and companion was Margo Lane. She was the only person who knew his true identity.

The plot or format of The Jack Benny Show seemed to never change. It was a show-within-a-show. The main characters (Jack, Don Wilson, Mary Livingston, Dennis Day and Phil Harris) except for Eddie Anderson who played Rochester, Jack’s valet and chauffeur, were merely playing some version of themselves.

The show would usually open with the band playing a popular tune, followed by Jack bantering with Don Wilson or one of the other regular cast members. Dennis Day almost always would sing a song somewhere within the program. The weekly episode would usually evolve around some situation or aspect of Jack’s life as he prepared for the upcoming show.

The bandleader on the show was Phil Harris. He was portrayed as a brash, skirt-chasing, hipster whose shtick was to put Jack down whenever possible. In real life he was married to the movie star and singer, Alice Faye.

Alice Faye became a favorite of moviegoers in the 1930s. She is best remembered for her critically acclaimed performance in the 1937 film “In Old Chicago”, starring along side Tyrone Power and Don Ameche. My father was so enamored by her performance that he named my sister after her.

During the time we lived on Vista Lane there were seven theaters in Oak Ridge. The largest, Grove Theater, seated a thousand people.  Though the price of admission back then was only 35 cents for adults and 10 cents for children. It was a rare treat for our family to “go to the movies”.

As I mention before, one of the largest spring-fed swimming pools in the entire world, encompassing 1.5 acres and holding 2.1 million gallons of water, provided residents of Oak Ridge a summer recreational experience that rivaled or exceeded that of any city in the nation.

Early on, the only paved surfaces in Oak Ridge were the tennis courts. They soon became a gathering place for social dances often with live music. By the time we moved to Vista Lane, residents had organized a city orchestra and a community theater, performing regularly at the Jackson Square Playhouse.

But what captured my sister’s and my interests more than anything else was the Jefferson Circle Skating Rink, run by Roy and Bee Swanson. The rink provided an outlet for both of us to exercise and demonstrate our natural gifts and abilities. By the time my sister turned 10, Roy was entering her in skating competitions, as well as, showcasing her talents at rink events and exhibitions. In November 1947, on my third birthday, he presented me with a pair of boot skates he had specially made for me.

Once the military administration of the federal reservation was taken over by the Atomic Energy Commission in January 1947, our family began to take excursions out and beyond the fence.

When Roy and Bee Swanson left Oak Ridge to open a tent skating rink in Gatlinburg in 1948 and then later a series of rinks in Newport, Pigeon Forge and Maryville, we would often visit them on the weekends, taking sojourns into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

We also began to take day trips to Norris Dam and Big Ridge State Parks and extended vacations to Atlanta, Georgia, Dadeville and Montgomery, Alabama, as well as Tampa and Miami, Florida, to visit relatives.

As I mentioned before, the Chambers family lived directly across a common area from us on Pennsylvania Avenue. They had three sons. Raymond, the eldest, was my sister’s age. Jay, the youngest, was two years older than me. And Harold was their middle child.

Sometime during the fall of 1948 we heard that the Chambers had bought a house on Lake City Highway, 20 miles northeast of Oak Ridge, and that they would soon be moving there. The day before they were to move, Jay came over to our house and asked if I had seen his toy pistol. I told him that I hadn’t but I’d keep an eye out for it. Later that day, around dusk, I saw it. It was lying in some tall grass about half way between our houses.

What happened next remains a defining moment in my life. You see, I coveted that toy pistol. I loved the sound it made when I pulled its trigger. For a long moment I just stood there staring at it. And then I turned and walked away, pretending I did not see it. I suppose I thought if I discovered it later, after the Chambers had moved, I could then call it mine.

The next day instead of going over to the Chambers to say goodbye I found other things to do. I was afraid that Jay would know just by looking at my face that I knew where his gun was.

By the end of the day, after the Chambers had left, though I was too young at the time to understand what I was feeling, I knew in my gut that I had disgraced myself. The shame was palpable. I desperately wanted to put it out of my mind, to pretend it never happened.

Days, weeks and months went by and I never returned to that tall grasses area between our houses to ‘rediscover’ Jay’s toy pistol. To do so would mean that it did in fact happen and that I was a despicable, dishonest person. As far as I know, that pistol is still there.

Several years later after we had moved to Norris my parents and I one Sunday afternoon drove to Cove Lake through Lake City. On our way back to Norris my father suggested that it might be fun to drive down and see the Chambers. Suddenly, all those repressed feelings of shame and self-loathing returned. Though I vehemently told my father that I did not want to go, he drove to their home anyway. When he turned into their driveway I leaned out the back window and began to vomit.

My father immediately stopped the car, turned around and said, “Why didn’t you say you were sick?” He then backed out of the driveway and drove home. I did not tell my parents that day why I was so upset. I suppose they figured that I had some bug or virus.

It was not until 1960, 11 years after my fall from grace, before I was able to tell anyone. I was a sophomore in high school, playing varsity basketball for Norris. Jay was a senior, playing varsity basketball for Lake City. When I saw him in the locker room I knew what I had to do. When I finished telling him the story he laughed and glibly responded: “Dee, I don’t even remember that gun.”

Despite the fact that Oak Ridge had been under government rule for six years and physically cut off from the rest of the world, when it came time to open the gates to the public in 1949 most Oak Ridgers were against the decision. Bare in mind that during the Manhattan Project the government provided free-of-charge water, electricity and coal for heating. The public school system was not only the best in the state but one of the best in the entire country. The quality of medical care at the time was excellent and was provided to families for only $4 per month. Oak Ridgers, as you can imagine, were reluctant to give up such amenities. They were also afraid with the influx of outsiders the city would become less safe and that they would have to start locking their doors.

Nevertheless, on March 19, 1949, five months before we moved to Norris, the government opened Oak Ridge for the first time since construction began on the city in the spring of 1943. Though the city of Oak Ridge was at last open to the world, X-10, Y-12 and K-25 remained securely fenced and gated.

The actual gate opening to the city was a big deal. LIFE, TIME and NEWSWEEK covered the event. Local, state and federal elected officials, including the Vice President of the United States Alben W. Barkley and Tennessee’s Governor Gordon Browning were there for the opening. Most of Tennessee’s state and federal representatives, including Senator Estes Kefauver and a young United States congressman, Albert Gore, Sr., were there to commemorate the day, as were a number of Tennessee mayors and city officials from near and far. One of the chief speakers was David Lilienthal, the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission.

The list of Hollywood stars and celebrities was long as well and included the likes of Jack Bailey, Adolph Menjou, Marie “The Body” McDonald, Adele Jergens, Virginia Mayo and a beautiful young up-and-coming starlet, Patricia Neal.

But for me, the real exciting news came when the Oak Ridge newspaper announced that the cowboy movie star Rod Cameron was coming to ride a horse in the big parade. I cared little about the early morning "ribbon burning” at Elza Gate or the speeches on the high school football field that afternoon. Nor was I looking forward to the evening festivities – the gala banquet and ball at the Oak Terrace in Grove Center. All I cared about was the possibility of seeing a real live Hollywood cowboy.

When the parade finally began at 11:00 a.m.  there was nearly a hundred thousand people lined-up on both sides of the parade route. High school bands from all over East Tennessee performed and marched along with the National Guard while planes flew overhead. Convertibles and floats filled with dignitaries, local beauties and Hollywood stars passed by while the crowd gawked and cheered.

My family arrived early along the route to secure a good spot to watch the parade. I was all dress up in my cowboy boots, genes, shirt and hat. As the parade began my father sat me on his shoulders. It was not long before Rod Cameron came riding along on a Tennessee Walking Horse. Now, I know you are not going to believe this, but when he saw me in my cowboy outfit sitting on my dad’s shoulders he rode over and asked if he could take me for a ride. My father consented.

Lifting me up and off of my dad’s shoulders, he placed me on the saddle in front of him and told me to hang on tight to the saddle horn. We then proceeded to canter off down the parade route. Eventually we made a u-turn, and he brought me back to my father’s shoulders. Though the parade went on for more than two hours, the only thing I remember about that day was riding with Rod Cameron on that dark brown Tennessee Walking Horse with a long black mane.

Section Two: NORRIS

Chapter Five

A Planned Community

During the summer of 1949 we moved 17 miles northeast of Oak Ridge to the small town of Norris, Tennessee in the foothills of the Cumberland Mountains. A year earlier Henry David Epstein, representing a group of Philadelphia businessmen, bought the entire town from the federal government (including 341 dwellings, a small business district, a large brick school building, a multi-purpose Community Building that housed a restaurant, library, a gymnasium and theater, as well as, an assortment of other structures on 1,284 acres). Epstein had out-bid the Norris Citizens Development Corporation (NCDC) that had been formed by a group of Norris residents to purchase the town.

The auction took place on June 15, 1948 in front of Norris’ only school building at the time; a large Georgian-style brick building that once was the largest electrically heated structure in the entire world. The NCDC’s maximum bid of 1.9 million dollars was not enough to secure ownership of the town. The auction bidding contest continued for several more back-and-forth-rounds between Epstein and a representative of J. W. Ferrell, a real estate company from North Carolina, before Epstein’s offer of 2.1 million dollars prevailed.

Until then Norris had been owned and operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), a corporation of the United States government. Congress established TVA in 1933 to address a wide range of technological, economic and environmental issues (including flood control, navigation, malaria prevention, reforestation, erosion control, and the production and delivery of low-cost electricity).

The town of Norris was originally built during the height of the Great Depression as a model planned community by TVA to house the workers who were constructing TVA’s first major hydroelectric project, a dam on the Clinch River.

The dam and the town were name for Senator George W. Norris, a Progressive Republican Senator from Nebraska who was a staunch supporter of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal initiatives and the prime senate sponsor of the Tennessee Valley Authority Act of 1933. He was also the prime Senate sponsor behind the Rural Electrification Act of 1935, which brought electrical service to rural areas across the United States.

Arthur Morgan, TVA’s first chairman, envisioned Norris as a model of egalitarian and cooperative living, as an independent, self-sustaining community. The responsibility for the town’s design rested with TVA’s Division of Land Planning and Housing and was loosely based on the English garden city movement of the 1890s.

Roads were made to follow the natural contours of the remote East Tennessee terrain, winding over the hills and through the valleys. Utilizing indigenous materials (native wood and stone, brick, cinder blocks, cedar shakes and shingles), the twelve basic house designs were also made to fit into the natural environment, without needlessly cutting down trees. Though a variety of exterior materials allowed neighborhoods to appear visually diverse, nearly every one of the all-electric homes included a porch and fireplace.

In addition, as a way to preserve the idyllic character of Norris the planners created a greenbelt surrounding the entire town, as well as, numerous patches of wooded areas and village greens. Just north of the town, TVA also acquired 5000 acres of pristine woodland, encompassing and protecting the Clear Creek watershed, the source of drinking water for the community. This sizable forest was (and still is) laced with an extensive system of old CCC hiking trails and shelters, leading north to the teal-blue, crystal-clear water of Norris Lake with its 880 miles of hardwood shoreline.

When Norris Dam was completed in 1936 many of the construction workers and their families who lived in Norris left, transferring to other TVA work projects. The plan to populate the town with the displaced rural families of the soon-to-be-flooded valleys of the Clinch and Powell River Basin would never happen.

Arthur Morgan’s belief that subsistence agriculture and small cooperative industries would one day form a part of the community’s economy was admirable but was never really adequately pursued. Though the Southern Highlanders Craft Guild would open two outlets, one in Norris and the other at the Norris Dam Visitors Center, Morgan’s utopian dream to sell quality crafts made in Norris would never be realized.

As the construction of the dam neared completion, other more pressing concerns deposed many of TVA’s original plans for Norris and its residents. The building that once housed the cafeteria was taken over by TVA’s Division of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries. The Authority also opened a hydraulic laboratory where it built and tested scale models of its many impending projects.

Obviously, the employees of these operations and their families needed a place to live. Norris soon became a TVA company town, almost exclusively inhabited by college-educated professionals –engineers, foresters, wildlife biologists, chemists, lawyers, secretaries, teachers, writers and journalists.

In addition, with TVA’s headquarters in Knoxville only 20 miles away, a short 45-minute drive on the newly constructed Norris Freeway, many of TVA’s professional leadership began to see Norris as an attractive alternative to city living and soon began moving into the remaining houses vacated by the departing construction workers (including David Lilienthal, one of the three original TVA directors, its third chairman and later the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, and Gordon Clapp, TVA’s first general manager and fourth chairman). Arthur Morgan and his wife Lucy also lived in Norris for a while. FDR and Morgan’s vision that indigenous people of the region would one day populate Norris was never to be realized.

Later, during World War II when Y-12, X-10 and K-25 began to be developed in Oak Ridge to separate, produce and purify uranium-235 from the natural uranium-238 for use in developing a nuclear bomb, another influx of non-indigenous people began to seek housing in and around Anderson County. By the end of 1943 nearly one-third of Norris households had a member working in the Secrete City.

From the very beginning TVA’s vision of Norris as an ideal model for an American community was flawed. Conforming to the so-called “customs and traditions” of the area, TVA officials excluded black families from living in the town. Needless to say, their supposition was false. As black leaders at the time were quick to point out, poor blacks and whites had lived and worked together in the mountains and valleys of East Tennessee for generations, long before TVA came to the region.

Nevertheless, despite its flaws, Norris was still truly an idyllic place to live and raise children. And that is the reason that my parents, like many other Oak Ridgers after the war, chose to move there.

* * *
A Beautiful Spring Day

My first memory of Norris is not pleasant. The experience must have scarred my psyche for life, given the fact that I was only four and a half years old at the time and I remember it as if it were yesterday.

In May of 1949, a month before we actually moved to Norris, my family and I, along with my Aunt Etta and Uncle Charlie, who were visiting us from Atlanta, Georgia, drove over to Norris to take a look at where we would be living.

The six of us were able to easily fit into the family car, a light blue 1948 Ford sedan.  My eleven-year-old sister, Alice, was sitting in the front seat between my dad who was driving and my Uncle Charlie who was riding shotgun. I was sitting in the back seat between my mother on my left and Aunt Etta on my right.

It was a beautiful spring day. The sky was clear and blue. Expectations were great. Everyone seemed to be in a good mood, psychologically prepared to have a good time.

However, before we had even left the city limits of Oak Ridge I began to complain that I needed to pee. By the time we got to Clinton, seven miles away, I was struggling not to pee in my pants. In spite of my pleas to pull over, my father continued to believe that I could wait until we got to Norris, another ten mile away, to relieve myself.

Unfortunately, though I almost made it, he was wrong. As we pulled into a parking spot in front of Gossett’s Hardware Store in the town center’s small business district, the pressure and pain in my bladder became too intense for me to continue to hold back the onslaught.

Though the bright sunny day allowed my soiled-soaked pants to dry rather quickly, the lingering stench emanating from my body, my clothes and the car seat must have been too offensive for my Aunt Etta to remain silent. For what I remember most about that beautiful spring day was her emotional reaction, her incessant, ill-tempered grumbling about how she had to endure sitting next to me. 

Chapter Six 

198 Oak Road

When TVA sold the town to David Epstein’s Philadelphia-based syndicate, Norris residents, under the terms of the sale agreement, were entitled to maintain their leases for one year. Epstein had also assured the community that all residents would have the opportunity to purchase their homes. The syndicate kept their word. By the time we move to Norris a year later, nearly every home had been bought, financially placing the syndicate’s investment decisively in the black, even though it had a substantial amount of non-residential property yet to sell.

The remaining assets of the town were not sold until 1953, after the creation of a permanent municipal government and the formation of another citizen-owned company. The newly established Norris Corporation bought the town’s commercial district and 650 acres of undeveloped land for $200,000.

By then we had been living in our new home at 198 Oak Road for nearly five years. When we moved in, it was a small simple two-story, five-room, one-bath, cinder block house with a fireplace and a metal roof. Within those four years, my parents had the exterior façade bond stoned and added a Florida room on the east side of the house.

198 Oak Road in 1953

In our front yard, bordering our property line, my father (with limited help from me) built a series of stone-lined flowerbeds. Using Crab Orchard flagstone he also excavated and paved a sidewalk from our front door to and through two stone, three-foot high, rectangular gate columns that supported a wooden-arched trellis. In addition, he landscaped (again, with my limited help) a portion of the backyard with another series of flowerbeds, constructed a small concrete block tool and storage building, and built an outdoor dinning area with a stone fireplace, a cooking grill and table. At one end of the table he fashion a seat for me out of wire mesh and concrete in the shape of a saddle. My father and I gathered much of the stone used in the making of the fireplace and chimney from an old, abandoned homestead at the north end of the Norris watershed.

It was during that excursion that I learned a very important lesson. As my father stop to explain and demonstrate how to safely pick up each stone (making sure to only lift the far end of the stone while keeping the rock mass between you and whatever may be beneath it), the nose of a large copperhead struck the end of my father's left middle finger as he carefully raised the stone. I nearly jumped out of my skin.

There is no doubt, if one survives; experiential learning trumps abstract learning every time.

Our next-door neighbors were the Hammonds and the McBees; the Hammonds to the east and the McBees to the west. Both families had two boys and a girl, although Erin Sue Hammond was not born until I was 14 years old. Erin Sue’s brothers, Pat and Billy, were, respectively, two and four years my junior, as were Danny and Kenny McBee. Their sister Peggy McBee, I believe, was six years my junior.

The circle we live on enclosed a communal play area used by all the kids in the neighborhood. In the middle was a clay basketball court with a hoop and backboard attached to an old hickory tree. We played just about every game imaginable within that circle – from kickball to kick-the-can, from mother-may-I to hide-and-go-seek.

Our house sat on more than an acre of land. The back of our property adjoined the southern section of the town’s surrounding greenbelt, which consisted of a dense hardwood forest with an undergrowth of flowering dogwoods and redbuds. A small portion of our property also ran along side a section of the only farm within the city limits of Norris.

Located within the forest, a quarter of a mile south of our house, near the Norris Freeway in a large open pit, was the town’s dump. It was a marvelous place to explore, offering a trove of discarded treasures. In fact, I still possess an old pewter pitcher that I discover there over 60 years ago.

Me as a cowboy in 1952. I was 7 years old.

I have fond memories as a young boy extensively exploring both the forest and the farm. I remember lying in wait, watching and observing the habits of an abundant wildlife population (including deer, fox, raccoons, rabbits, snakes, tadpoles, frogs, salamanders, turtles, hawks, and owls).  My observations of domesticated farm animals (mainly cows, horses and chickens) provided me the opportunity to witness a number of other distinct and extraordinary events, including conception, birth and death.

I once saw a cow jump the farm’s fence, which ran along the southwest corner of our property in order to graze with the deer on the lush green grass growing in our backyard. Granted, the fence was on a slope, which reduced the height of the barbed wire barrier a good foot on the farm side of the fence. Nevertheless, I would have never believed it possible if I had not witnessed it with my own eyes.

Norris was truly a paradise for a child like me who loved the out of doors, who took great pleasure in exploring the natural world. Even as a young boy I had a deep sense of being free and independent. I knew that as long as I did not dishonor my parents, or myself I had the run of the town, as well as the greenbelt surrounding it.

Besides, the town was so small I knew that if I did anything wrong my mother would know about it long before I got home. There were parental eyes everywhere. Perhaps that is the reason I enjoyed so much being alone and in the wild.

Though my mother never discourage me, I do not believe that she ever truly became comfortable with the various and sundry wild creatures I caught and brought home for her to see, especially all the snakes and spiders. Most of the creatures I captured I released immediately. Occasionally, I would confine a creature for a short period of time, no more than an hour or two.

For a long while I believed my capture and release strategy to be benign – that is until one hot summer day when I uncovered a mole in our backyard. As I was examining its velvet fur body with no noticeable eyes or ears and its short powerful forearms with large furless paws oriented for digging, my mother yelled out the back door and asked me to run an errand for her. I quickly put several handfuls of dirt in the bottom of a large discarded flour can that I had found at the Norris Dump and had converted into a temporary enclosure for my captured creatures.

Placing the mole in the can with some more dirt, I snapped on the lid which I had punctured with numerous air holes and placed the can beneath a tree in a cool shady spot. Unfortunately, when I returned an hour or so later, the sun had moved westward and the once shady spot was directly in the sun’s rays.

When I pulled off the can’s lid the temperature inside the container was unbearably hot. The poor innocent mole had been baked to death. It was the last time I ever captured and confined another innocent sentient being that was doing me no harm. I decided that my observations from that point on would have to rely on strategies and actions that were truly benign.

I soon learned that by choosing a suitable spot and sitting very still and quiet, patiently watching and waiting, all kinds of creatures who normally were extremely wary of humans (including deer, rabbits, squirrels, and birds) would venture close to observe me. There was no need for stealth stalking on my part. As long as I remained and appeared harmless, their fear was quelled by their curiosity.

There were many wild creatures that took no effort at all for me to observe. It was common to see deer, raccoon, fox, snakes and box turtles in our backyard, as well as hawks and owls perched on nearby limbs. The strangest creature I encounter in our backyard looked prehistoric, with three distinct rows of spikes and raised plates.

Early one morning while my father was working on a crossword puzzle at the kitchen table and I was preparing some cinnamon toast for breakfast, we heard what sounded like 'Mr. Mack' (Clyde Mack) collecting our garbage. But it was Saturday, not a garbage pick-up day.

When I opened the back door, I immediately saw one of our large metal garbage cans tipped over, chaotically rolling from side to side. Stuck halfway within the can was what we referred to as a 'sawback', a gigantic alligator snapping turtle. It must have been a least 24-inches wide and weighted over 100 pounds. I remember struggling to hold the can as my father pulled and tugged on the turtle’s long, thick tail.

Once we had achieved its release, it did not seem a bit appreciative of our efforts. Its enormous neck and head kept turning back and forth, snapping first at my father and then at me. Each time it opened its jaws to snap at us a strange worm-like appendage on the tip of its tongue was prominently displayed.

When it finally calmed down my father slowly and carefully grasped the turtle’s shell just behind its neck and in front of its tail. He then picked it up and carried it toward the greenbelt, releasing it at the forest’s edge.

But perhaps, the most significant and meaningful animal observation of my childhood occurred not with a wild animal, but with a group of domesticated farm animals. I was no more than 10 years old when I came upon a scene I will never forget. A lone cow appeared to be surrounded by a large number of other cows. As I ventured nearer, I saw a new born calf lying motionlessly on the ground. The calf had obviously been born dead. When I looked closer I saw tears rolling down the face of the one I believed to be the calf’s mother. She was actually crying.

For a long time I just stood there – amazed, watching and waiting for the mourners to disperse. But they continued to maintain their vigil, ignoring my presence. Eventually, I left the wake and continued with the day’s exploration. Several hours later as I was returning home I happen upon the scene again. None of them had moved. They were all still standing there, keeping watch over the stillborn calf.

Twenty years later I told a colleague of mine who had been raised on a farm the above story. She did not believe me. That is until she went home to visit her parents for a long weekend and observed with her own eyes a very similar scene. Her father who had raised and lived with cows for nearly his entire life assured her that he had witness the phenomenon a number of times.

The road we lived on (Oak Road) extends both north and south from Garden Road. The north end of Oak Road leads up a long step hill to where the old Community Building on Ridgeway Circle used to stand. A horrific fire of an undetermined origin destroyed it in 1978.

The south end of Oak Road curves up a gradual hill in a southeasterly direction and then north to a cul-de-sac on a wooded knoll. Our house was on a small circle just south of the dead end. By road, it was over a mile and a half to Norris’ town center and the school. As the crow flies, we lived farther away than all the other children in town. For that reason my sister and I soon learned every short-cut to take to school.

Heading in a northeasterly direction we walked up to the cul-de-sac at the end of Oak Road. From there we took a path down and through the woods to the corner of Garden and Orchard. Continuing in a northeasterly direction, we walked up and across the commons on Orchard Road through the Jernigan’s yard to another path that led to a service road behind the houses on the west side of Dale Road. Taking the service road we walked north to West Norris Road. Turning right we then followed West Norris Road down to the corner of Dale and hiked up and across a steep grassy hillside to and through a line of large white pines that bordered the west side of the school’s athletic field.

Every morning during the school year (rain, sleet or snow), from kindergarten through the 12th grade, I made that mile-long trek, often running the entire way.

Chapter Seven


 When TVA completed the construction of the Norris School in January 1935, the two-story brick building (as I referenced before) was the largest electrically heated structure in the world and was technologically the most advanced school in the United States. There were photoelectric cells that controlled lighting in all the classrooms and an automated sprinkler system for the lawn. Located at the north end of the auditorium high above the floor was a fireproof projection booth equipped with a state-of-the-art motion picture projector.

Norris School 1935
The Henry Hawkins house to the left.

 Early on, TVA contracted with the University Of Tennessee School of Education to manage the school’s core curriculum. The cooperative venture between TVA, Anderson County, and the state’s flagship university was demonstratively superior, exceeding all of the state requirements.

While the school was federally financed and under an operational contract with the University of Tennessee, it remained an exceptional place to acquire an education. However, when TVA sold Norris in 1948, it also stripped the school of its advanced technology. For example, the high-tech motion picture projector was sold to the Bijou Theater in downtown Knoxville.

When Anderson County bought the school in April 1949 and took over the administration of the curriculum, it soon became clear to faculty, parents, and students that the school would have to make-do with fewer services on a budget greatly reduced. Nevertheless, the school continued to provide a good education for its students, mainly because it had quality teachers, an active and responsible PTA, and a community sensitive and responsive to the needs of its children.

Moreover, though the University of Tennessee (UT) School of Education was no longer administering the school's curriculum, it did continued to utilize the school as a teaching experience for their practicum students.  For six weeks (and sometimes longer) each year the Norris School had a back-up faculty (from 15 to 20 UT students) who became an integral part of our community, living in town or at the Norris Dam State Park.

Norris School Mid 1950s

Originally, TVA designed the school as two independent but physically similar units. A centrally located administrative department on the first floor (simply known as the ‘office’) and an auditorium-gymnasium on the second floor separated the high school from the kindergarten and elementary school. The high school not only received students from the elementary wing of the building but also from five other elementary feeder schools located throughout the northeastern part of Anderson County.

The school building was constructed on the northeast slope of a hill facing what once was Henry Hawkins’ cornfield that became the Town Common, known to residents as The Commons. The slope was incorporated in the design of the school. The result being that the front of the building is two stories in height and the upper rear of the building only one story, adding yet another safety feature to the structure by allowing direct egress from each floor without the need of using stairwells.

My father and me painting the wall between the first and second grade classrooms. My mother is to the right, standing near the water fountain.

In 1957 the first six grades were moved to the new Norris Elementary School located northeast across The Commons, just beyond East Circle Road in a small valley surrounded by trees. Two years later the seventh grade was moved there to relieve over-crowding at the high school. A year later, the eighth grade was moved there as well for the same reason. By then, I was a freshman in high school.


For the most part, my first memories of the Norris School are very pleasant. The kindergarten was located on the back of the upper west wing of the school. It was a spacious, self-contained unit with its own separate restroom facilities, sink, and drinking fountain. The room had a large fireplace and windows on three sides that provided both natural light and ventilation.

Though the room had been specially adapted for small children, providing a safe yet stimulating environment, what I most remember and cherish about being in kindergarten is not the large wooden building blocks, the singing and dancing, the cookies and milk, the afternoon nap, nor the playground outside, it is something less tangible, more like a feeling of fulfillment or contentment. From the very beginning, school became an enjoyable place to be, where both information and the wonder of the unknown aroused my curiosity and imagination.

However, by May 1950 I was ready for summer and our annual family vacation to Florida to visit Mama Nell (my mother’s mother) and Pop (Monty Montgomery, her husband). We often would rent a small cabin for four or five days on the beach near Tarpon Springs, just north of Tampa where Mama Nell and Pop lived.

In late June, while we were in Florida, the Cold War suddenly turned hot. North Korea invaded South Korea. The United Nations led by the United States began what President Truman called a "police action" against the aggressors. Eventually, this led to a heavy military and naval involvement by America, especially once the Chinese became involved. Though no one believed that the task would be easy, no one expected that the violent conflict would continue for three more years.

In September, in spite of being three months short of my sixth birthday, my parents decided to enroll me in Mrs. Rosenbalm’s first-grade. I was looking forward to it. Unfortunately, within a few weeks I began to be physically bullied after school by a couple of my classmates.

When my father found out from my sister that I had been for nearly a week taking a circuitous route home to avoid further harassment, he sat me down and gave me some fatherly advice. He told me that if I continued to run from my tormenters their bullying would only get worse. He then told me what he thought I should do and say if they continued to physically harassment me.

The next day, despite feeling nervous and anxious, I did not try to avoid my tormenters. As a result I found myself penned against the back brick wall of the school by the leader of the two. In the struggle, I somehow was able to push him off of me and deliver a solid punched to his upper abdomen, as my father had instructed me to do. He immediately fell to his knees. I then told them both in the clearest voice I could muster at the time (using the exact words my father had told me to say): If you ever mess with me again you will regret it.” My father’s advice could not have been more sound. Not only was I never harassed again, both boys eventually became my friends.

After all these year I recognize the experience as a milestone in my life. What I discovered in myself during that confrontation was courage and confidence. Despite my apprehension I was able to face my fear and in the process realize my potential. Given that I was not yet six years old at the time, the realization was extremely powerful, providing me the poise to face even more difficult conflicts in the years to come.


The principal of the Norris School at that time was Robert (Bob) Moore. Mr. Moore’s youngest son, Tommy, was my age. Tommy and I had a number of things in common. Both of us had a difficult time learning how to read and we both had a gift for drawing. (Years later, I would learn that our reading problems were due to the fact that both of us are severely dyslexic.)

One morning during the fall of 1951 when we were in the second grade, Tommy drew a picture of a boy peeing and tried to surreptitiously pass it around the room. When the drawing got to me, our teacher, Mrs. Niles, confiscated it, assuming (since it was rendered so well and anatomically correct) that I was its creator. Though I denied it profusely, she did not believe me and had me stand in the corner, wearing a pointed dunce hat.

At the end of that school year the Moores moved from Norris to Sewanee, Tennessee. Mr. Moore had taken a position as the headmaster of the Sewanee Military Academy.

Nearly 40 years later, while I was on a plan flying back to Nashville from Washington, D.C., I happened to overhear a conversation from the row of seats directly behind me. A man, who was approximately my age, was chatting with a young college co-ed. When he disclosed to her that he was a teacher at a special school in Connecticut for children diagnosed with dyslexia, I began to listen more intently to their exchange.

As he was revealing to her that he was going to Sewanee to visit an old artist friend at the home of his friend’s mother, I suddenly realized that his old friend must be Tommy Moore. Moments later, I was on my knees leaning over the back of my seat, introducing myself and telling him the aforementioned story.


As I said, reading was always difficult for me. Over the years my mother bought numerous books on the subject, including Rudolf Flesch’s 1955 bestseller, Why Johnny Can’t Read. It must have been extremely frustrating for her because she was such a prolific reader.

To compensate for my inability to read, she read to me and not just grade-level books. By the time I was in the fifth grade she had read many of the classics to me, including The Red Badge of Courage, Les Misérable, The Count of Monte Cristo, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. By the time I was in the sixth grade she had read to me all three volumes of H. G. Well's History of the World.

Unfortunately, my inability to read at grade-level made it more and more difficult for me to perform near my potential in the classroom, especially during written test. Though I had successfully completed the fifth grade, the timed achievement test given at the end of that year (which I was unable to complete) decidedly determined that the reading requirements for the sixth grade would be too much for me to manage, unless I was somehow able during the summer to drastically improve my reading skills.

I was given a choice. I could spend the entire summer with my fifth grade teacher Mrs. Shaw as my reading tutor or repeat the fifth grade and use that time to improve my reading proficiency, given that I had already fulfilled the fifth-grade requirements. I suppose in order to help me feel better about myself, my mother reminded me that I had started school a year early.

Since I did not want to miss out on playing Little League Baseball or participating in the Norris Summer Recreation Program, I chose to repeat the fifth grade. In addition, my parents hired two people as reading tutors – Mrs. Blake (Tommy Moore’s grandmother) who lived at the time on the east side of The Commons near the school in the old Henry Hawkins house (one of the two original homes left standing when the town was built) and Peggy Borgers (a peer) whom I had known nearly my entire life (as noted in previous chapters). Both of them played an important part in helping me develop strategies to improve my reading accuracy, fluency, and speed.

I was told later that my sixth-grade teacher Mrs. Arnurius was concern that I was performing far below my potential because of my inability to read at grade level. After consulting with Mrs. Emmons, the school’s guidance counselor, a decision was made to give me an oral IQ test to determine my reasoning skills and my problem-solving abilities. The results of the test not only confirmed but also exceeded what they both believed to be true. According to the test my IQ score was 148.

The first time I ever heard the word dyslexia was in 1959 from my sister. She had just completed her junior year at George Peabody College for teachers. She told our parents and me that she thought she knew why I had had such a difficult time learning how to read. She believed that I was dyslexic. She brought home that summer a battery of test for me to take to determine whether or not I had symptoms of dyslexia.

When I had completed the tests she told us that though her assessment was not a formal diagnosis of dyslexia (which could only be determined by a licensed psychologist), she was convinced that I had dyslexia. She said the tests confirmed that I was highly intelligent and articulate, but unable to read, write, or spell at grade level; that I learn best through hands-on experience; that I am often confused by letters, words, and sequences; that when I am asked to read or write I often repeat, add, transpose, omit, substitute, and reverse letters and words; that I often mispronounce long words and transpose phrases, words, and syllables when speaking; that I am ambidextrous and often confuse left/right; and that my complaints of seeing non-existent movement while trying to read or write (especially on bright white paper) is consistent with being dyslexic. She said she believed that neither side of my brain was dominant.


Over the years I have place myself into some very embarrassing and troublesome situations from which there is often no clear or easy way out. And yet it seems I have a knack for cleverly extricating myself from these self-imposed jams. For example, I once found myself during recess in the third grade needing to pee, but I was having too much fun to take a break from the game I was playing. So, I waited until the bell rang. As I was rushing to the restroom to relieve myself I realized that I had perhaps waited too long. My urinary sphincter muscle was on the brink of exhaustion. As I struggled to unzip the uncooperative zipper to my pants the muscle relented to fatigue.

Now, this was a fine-how-do-you-do! The crotch to my pants was soaked with urine and the next class period had begun. For what seemed like a long while I just stood there looking at myself in the mirror, desperately trying to come up with a solution to my predicament. And then, suddenly, it came to me. I walked over to the sink and began splashing myself with water. By the time I walked into Mrs. Higdon’s third-grade classroom I was soaking wet from head to toe.

Of course, I was asked by everyone, including Mrs. Higdon, “What happened?” My explanation, I believed at the time, was clever. I told the class that a group of older boys bombarded me with water balloons. Everyone seemed to accept my fictional account of what had happened. That is, until my pants began to dry. Though no one ever challenge my story or informed me that they knew what really happened, the smell of urine eventually became quite noticeable, at least to me.

There also have been over the years a number of self-imposed jams needing instant solutions that were more troublesome than embarrassing. For instance, there was that time in Coach Carl Bean’s seventh-grade general science class when I had completely forgotten to prepare a mini-science demonstration.

Coach Bean was surprisingly a pretty good science teacher. One of the things he had us do was to prepare, on our own initiative, a demonstration of some basic scientific law or fundamental principle. Through the drawing of lots each week a student or two was responsible for a short scientific presentation. As a reminder at the end of each week he would write on the upper right hand corner of the chalkboard the names of those responsible for the next week’s presentations.

One Monday morning, as I sat down in my desk a fellow student leaned over and asked me if I had prepared a presentation. Sure enough, when I looked up, there on the upper right hand corner of the chalkboard was my name. Immediately, my mind began brainstorming, desperately trying to spontaneously generate some creative idea to solve my self-inflicted crisis.

When Coach Bean entered the classroom I still had not come up with an adequate idea or a viable excuse. After calling the roll, he asked me if I was ready to present. I told him I was, but that I first needed to go to the drinking fountain in the hallway and get a mouth full of water. Permission was granted.

Returning from the water fountain to the classroom, I began by gargling to demonstrate that there was actual water in my mouth. I then proceeded to stand on my head and swallow the water. While still on my head I informed the class that what they just witness was a demonstration that water and food actually pass from the mouth to the stomach by the muscle contractions and relaxations of the esophagus and not by gravity. Though I cannot say that the applause was deafening, I can say that I received an A+ for my scientific demonstration of esophageal peristalsis.


Although my poor reading skills continued to cause me to perform far below my academic potential, my confidence in my value and abilities remained high – thanks in no small part to my family, friends, and wonderful teachers who never made me feel embarrassed or ashamed of my disability.

When I started high school in 1960 the school was over a quarter of a century old. Nevertheless, certain preconceived opinions and attitudes among those who lived in and outside of Norris prevailed. The lingering ill-feelings associated with the town’s creation and the often contrived social disparity made it difficult at times to overcome the animosity and develop meaningful friendships.

Nevertheless, I believe my athletic prowess, especially on the basketball court, including my observance of fair play and respect for others, singled me out as a leader on and off the court. My calm self-assurance, appreciation of differences, and willingness to confront and challenge my inadequacy and anxieties allowed others (city and county) to see me as an approachable and assessable friend.

Chapter Eight 

The Norris Community Building

During the construction of Norris Dam (1933-1936), the Norris Community Building provided a recreation center for all persons (male and female) hired by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to build the dam. The structure consisted of a large lounge, a refreshment area, an auditorium-gymnasium with a stage at one end and a projection room at the other, a lending library and reading room, a barber and beauty shop, restrooms, an administrative office, including committee and lecture rooms.

The Norris Community Building (U.S. Library of Congress Prints and Photograph Division)

The facility was built on the west side of Ridgeway Circle opposite a sizeable cafeteria. On the north and south sides of the circle were two dormitories for single men. Northeast of the circle along Ridgeway Road were four other men’s dormitories. Southeast of the circle at the north end of Oak Road across from another men’s dormitory (destroyed by fire 1936) was the lone women’s dormitory. Most of the women who resided there worked in the cafeteria.

Once the dam was completed and construction workers began to move to other TVA projects, many of these buildings were used by TVA in other capacities. For example, early in 1937 the cafeteria became the Forestry Building and the town’s primary employer. Until then, TVA’s Division of Forestry was in Knoxville. The women’s dormitory became an inn for visitors, and then later, after Norris was incorporated, a nursing home.

By the time we moved to Norris (in 1949) the Community Building had been serving the needs of the permanent residents of the town for over a decade. The Community Building’s refreshment area had become a restaurant, a county art center had replace the library and reading room, which had been moved to the Norris School building in 1936 (later moved back to the Community Building in 1954), and the space formerly occupied by the barber and beauty shop had become the offices, display room, and storage room of the Southern Highlanders Craft Cooperative.

In 1934 TVA asked the Southern Highland Handicraft Guild to help them form a craft-marketing cooperative. Soon TVA began promoting Appalachian crafts through a cooperative called Southern Highlanders that was officially incorporated in the State of Tennessee on May 7, 1935. That same year, as part of TVA’s mission to create sustainable economic development in the region, the cooperative opened its headquarters in Norris, as well as its first retail shop.

For a brief time the cooperative maintained five shops in the United States. However, due to disappointing sales at the Patton Hotel in Chattanooga, the Chickamauga Dam site, and the Palmer House in Chicago, the cooperative soon reduced its retail outlets to Norris and Rockefeller Center in New York City. In order to reach a larger buying public it produced and published a 24-page catalog offering a variety of craft items, including hand-woven textiles, furniture, baskets, toys, and jewelry.

Soon after TVA sold the town in 1948 the cooperative's headquarters and shops closed. Once the town was incorporated in 1949, the offices of the city government were in the Community Building.


My first vivid memory of the Norris Community Building occurred one evening in the fall of 1950. The jukebox was playing a song by The Weavers:

To this day, whenever I hear that haunting melody, my mind flashes back to that moment. The lights of the restaurant are dim. There are several couples on the floor dancing to the song.

The origin of the old folk standard is unclear. The American blues musician Huddie Ledbetter ("Lead Belly") had been singing a version of the song as far back as 1908. By the 1930s he had made the song his own, rewriting most of the lyrics. The musicologists John and Alan Lomax first recorded "Lead Belly" singing the song for the Library of Congress in 1933 while he was still in a Louisiana prison.
Despite the song’s popularity within the New York City blues community, it never was a commercial success until 1950 when the Weavers recorded their version of the song, six months after "Lead Belly" had died. The song was on the Billboard Best Seller chart for 25 weeks, peaking at number 1 for 13 of those weeks.

The Greenwich Village-based folk quartet was made up of Ronnie Gilbert, Lee Hays, Fred Hellerman, and Pete Seeger. Formed in November 1948, by the early 1950s the group had become a commercial success, selling millions of records under the Decca label.

Unfortunately, during the McCarthy era and the Red Scare, an FBI informant (who later recanted his testimony) denounced Pete Seeger and Lee Hays as Communist Party members. Eventually, both Seeger and Hays were called to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Hays took the Fifth Amendment while Seeger refused to answer on grounds of the First Amendment.

Seeger was found guilty of contempt by the Committee and placed under restrictions by the court pending an appeal. Finally, in 1961 his conviction was overturned. Nevertheless, Seeger was blacklisted by the entertainment industry and prevented from performing on television and radio throughout the 1950s and much of the 1960s. All of the Weavers were placed under FBI surveillance.

Late in 1953 Decca Records terminated The Weavers' recording contract and deleted their songs from its catalog. The group’s records were also denied airplay, which greatly limited their income from royalties. With their economic viability on the wane they disbanded.

However, in December 1955 the group reunited to play a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall. A recording of the concert was produced and distributed by Vanguard Records. Despite a surge in popularity of folk music and a backlash against McCarthyism, the group never really recovered from the witch-hunt. It was not until 1968 that Pete Seeger was finally able to appear on a nationally syndicated television show – The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

Over the next 13 years while I lived in Norris there would be many other memorable moments, events, and activities at the Norris Community Building. One of the longest reoccurring was the annual Birthday Ball, later becoming the Polio Ball, and then the March of Dimes Ball. Held in late December on or near Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s birthday, it was a highly successful fund-raiser for polio research and later for the Cripple Children’s Foundation. Attendance was often so large that there was hardly room in the auditorium to dance.

The President's Ball 1948 (Knoxville News-Sentinel – 1948)

Another annual event held at the Community Building was the Norris Religious Fellowship’s Church Bazaar. It was the Fellowship’s biggest fund-raising event of the year. There were all kinds of games and activities, as well as food and donated items for sale at the White Elephant Booth. Everyone in town came. The Fellowship’s Young Peoples Group ran many of the booths.

Perhaps the town’s longest running and most prominent cultural activity at the Community Building was the Norris Little Theater. It began in 1937, staging as many as three plays a year. It was truly a community endeavor. There was never a paid director. Everyone was involved in the productions – either as actors, set designers, stagehands, make-up artists, or merely audience members.

For a number of years in the late 1950s the young people in town also began staging their own productions as the Norris Summer Players. In 1958 they performed an original play – “Throw the Rascals Out” – by Sandy Brandt (a writer for both the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Atomic Energy Commission in Oak Ridge and a long time resident of Norris). My senior class performed the play again in 1963.

In 1998 as part of the 50th Anniversary of the incorporation of Norris, the Anderson County High School drama club performed Mr. Brandt’s three-act political satire. I was invited to the performance because I had played one of the leading characters in the original Norris High School production. Mr. Brandt (who was by then suffering from dementia) was accompanied by his son Chancellor Robert (Bob) Brandt. At the end of the performance the students called Mr. Brandt to the stage and gave him a standing ovation and a bouquet of roses. It was a very memorable occasion, one I will never forget.

Early on, what brought me to the Community Building most often were the Boy Scout meetings of Troop 73 sponsored by the Norris Religious Fellowship. I joined the scouting program first as a Cub Scout. At age 11, I became a Boy Scout, advancing toward the goal of becoming an Eagle Scout. Though I fulfilled the requirement of at least 21 merit badges, I never did an extensive service project. By the time I became an Explorer Scout at 14, my interest in rising in the ranks of the scouting program had greatly diminish.

I still remember and can recite the Scout Law – "A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent" – and the Scout Oath – "On my honor, I will do my best, to do my duty, to God and my country, and to obey the Scout Law, to help other people at all times, to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight." What I remember most, though, about Troop 73 are all those incredible outdoor adventures – from exploring the Outer Banks along the North Carolina coast to the camping and backpacking trips in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

I have very fond memories of our annual fall camping trip to Greenbrier Cove: rock-hopping up and down the Little Pigeon River, taking baths in the river with snow on the ground, hiking to Ramsey’s Cascade and off trail to Wooly Tops where we discovered the wreckage of a small plane, being dropped off at the Alum Bluff trailhead and hiking up and over Mount Le Count and back down through Trillium Gap to our campsite along the Little Pigeon in Greenbrier – a hike of over 18 miles.

I remember our annual encounters with "V-neck," a black bear with a white V-shape marking on her chest. We thought she was a male until one year "V-neck" showed up at our campsite with two cubs. I remember returning from an all-day hike to find her sitting in Fred Lewis’ tent. She was hovering over a chessboard and an unfinished game, seemingly contemplating a move.

I remember another year when my tent mate, Dewey Grieve, brought a lockable, small metal chest for non-perishable food, thinking it would prevent wild creatures from eating our food. Unfortunately, we were awakened in the night by loud grunts and thuds. Scrambling from our tent we found "V-neck" heaving the metal chest into the air. The loud dull sound was the chest impacting the earth. Though it remained intact, the contents were a sordid mess.

I vividly remember a weeklong canoeing trip on Norris Lake northeast of Pellissippi Pointe at the confluence of the Powel and Clinch Rivers along the shoreline of Central Peninsula. It was on that trip that I saw alligator gar in the wild for the first time (the largest fresh-water fish in North America). A small school of them (all at least six-feet long) actually rubbed up against the bottom of our canoe. A year earlier while on my eighth-grade trip to the state capitol in Nashville I had seen a stuffed alligator gar nearly 10-feet long at the state museum in the old War Memorial Building.

On that same canoeing trip I had an experience that I will never forget. On the evening of our last night we pulled our canoes ashore near a freshly mowed field. As we were setting up camp someone suggested gathering the hay and using it as bedding in our tents. Around four o’clock the next morning I awoke with chigger bites all over my body. For the next two weeks I tried every home remedy known to man to relieve the intense itching – from calamine lotion to nail polish. Nothing worked.

Chiggers are the larvae of harvest mites. They begin as eggs, hatch as larvae, develop into nymphs and then become adults. Nymph and adult harvest mites are vegetarians. But in their larval stage they are parasitic.

Too small to see with the naked eye, chiggers do not burrow under the skin as many people believe. They feed on skin cells. After injecting a digestive enzyme that ruptures the cell wall, they suck up the cells' fluids. Obviously, the process irritates the skin, causing a discomfort that can last for weeks.

What I should have done was grab a bar of soap, dive into the lake, and scrub every inch of my body. On further reflection, what I should not have done was use freshly mowed hay as bedding. But at the time I was naive and ignorant.

The original Norris Community Building remained the social and cultural hub of the town for many years, until a horrific fire of a suspicious nature and undetermined origin destroyed it in 1978. Fortunately, volunteers were able to save many of the city records and library books. A number of residents wanted to rebuild the structure on the same site utilizing the original design. However, (to the dismay of many of us) the new Community Building, completed in 1983 at a different location near the town center, was not at all like the old.

Chapter Nine
The Fellowship

When we arrived in Norris in the summer of 1949 there were only three religious congregations in the community. The largest of the three by far was the Norris Religious Fellowship. A very small group of Catholics had been worshiping together for well over a decade. In 1947 the first Baptist Church in Clinton established a small ministry in Norris. All three congregations were meeting in the Norris School building.

During the changeover of the town’s ownership from TVA to private (between 1948 and 1954) four ministries besides The Fellowship (as it was known) established churches in Norris – St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, the First Baptist Church, the St. Francis Episcopal Church, and the Norris United Methodist Church.

In November 1933, when TVA began the construction of Norris Dam, Arthur Morgan, the first board chairman, was adamant that TVA would not build a church in the town of Norris on constitutional grounds, which forbids the sponsorship and compulsion of religious exercise by government upon its citizens. Nevertheless, within the first month of the dam’s construction, Rev. C. C. Haun, a Congregational minister and a TVA employee, began conducting religious services at the Norris Community Building. These religious activities were not compulsory, yet were open to anyone interested.

By the summer of 1934 as more and more families moved into the newly constructed homes the need for a more formal religious association became apparent.  TVA conducted a survey.  The results of the questionnaire confirmed that 99 percent of the Norris residents preferred a cooperative community approach to fulfill their religious needs. As a result, in October 1934, the Norris Religious Fellowship was formed. 

The members of The Fellowship  came from very diverse backgrounds – both religiously and geographically. Though the membership was below the average age of most congregations, the majority was above average in education and intellect. From the very beginning all church activities were designed to provide ecumenical inspiration and enlightenment, so that each member could seek and find religious truth in their own way.  Through a greater appreciation and understanding of the world’s major religions, the members of the Fellowship believed that the opportunity for spiritual growth would be enhanced.

Both of my parents were drawn to The Fellowship’s guiding principle (In things agreed upon unity, in other things liberty, in all things the will to be one) and the lack of a religious dogma and creed. However, it was rare, if not extraordinary, for my father to attend church. He had come to believe that religious faith and doctrine were liturgical nonsense, pious propaganda often administered by hypocrites.

My father’s disillusionment with religion came early. Growing up during the early 1900s in a small Alabama town northeast of Montgomery, my father’s family faithfully attended a small protestant evangelical church. The entire congregation of the church (including my father) believed beyond a shadow of doubt that their charismatic married minister was a conduit of God – that the Almighty spoke through him. That is, until he skipped town with all of the church’s funds in the arms of an underage female parishioner.

Though traumatic the experience was transformative. My father came to realize that faith (the belief in, devotion to, and the trust in someone or something, especially without logical proof) is ludicrous. When devotion and honorable behavior are coerced through indoctrination and/or proselytizing, using the fear of punishment and the prospect of reward, both the transaction and the conversion lack moral standing.

Moreover, as an adult my father was unable to reconcile the doctrine of a loving, omnipotent, all-knowing, and transcendent creator with reality. Both the Bible and life experience seemed to suggest that if God truly exists outside the mind of man, he must be cruel, manipulative, and sadistic – undeniably a deity to fear, but not one to worship.

Though my father may have recognized Saul of Tarsus (better known as the Apostle Paul) to be a highly eloquent, aggressive, fearless, and brilliant promoter, as well as the interpreter of the meaning of Christ throughout the world (then and now), my father did not agree with his interpretation nor his analysis “ . . . that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." [Romans 8:28]

No, my father was more apt to agree (as I do) with Samuel Clemens that faith is believing what you know full well ain’t so, that the sure confidence with which we righteously reject other faiths as nonsense should teach us to suspect that ours is also, or with the title character in Archibald MacLeish's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, J.B. who expresses the theodicy paradox eloquently:
“If God is God He is not good,
If God is good He is not God,
Take the even, take the odd;
I would not sleep here if I could
Except for the little green leaves in the wood
And the wind on the water.”

Though The Fellowship had from time to time discussed the possibility of securing a place to worship, it was not until 1945 that it acquired a building of its own. Though not large enough to be used as anything but a classroom or an office, early that year it purchased from TVA an old fire hall on West Norris Road for $20.  After the Fellowship obtained a state charter, TVA licensed The Fellowship to use a parcel of land east of the Norris School building on the corner of Dogwood and East Norris Roads. The old fire hall was then loaded on a truck and moved to the site. The Fellowship spent another $379.59 to renovate the small two-room building, calling it the Fellowship House. Nearly 70 years later, it still stands nestled in the trees near the educational building as testament of the Fellowship’s enduring legacy.

When my family became members of The Fellowship in 1949, the minister was Dr. Philip Burton (a Methodist) who had succeeded Thomas 'Scotty' Cowan (a Presbyterian) who served from 1939 to 1946. It was under Dr. Burton’s leadership that a building program was, at last, actualized.

However, in 1950 the cost to build both a sanctuary and an educational building was estimated to be over a $100,000. The Fellowship’s prospect of securing a sum of that amount was unpromising at best. So the membership chose to build the educational building first. In the interim the worship services and Sunday School classes continued to meet across Dogwood Road in the Norris School building .

Late in 1950 a site began to be cleared for the building. By April 1951 work was started on the foundation. Nearly all the work was voluntary and done by members of The Fellowship, which reduced the costs of construction considerably.  Though the work moved slowly as money became available for purchase of materials by January 1953, services were conducted in the new educational building for the first time. This initial stage of the building project was completed free of debt.

Though I was too young at the time to offer valuable assistance, I do remember helping my father run electrical wiring throughout the building. Despite the fact that he continued to refrain from attending church, his electrical expertise and supervision were indispensable in the building’s successful completion.

During Dr. Burton’s tenure a number of innovative collaborations were initiated with other houses of worship in both Knox and Anderson counties. For example The Fellowship’s Young Peoples Group would often meet with and plan outings with Temple Beth El’s youth group in Knoxville and the Unitarian youth group in Oak Ridge.

Rabbi Marx from Temple Beth El also would on occasion fill-in for Dr. Burton during Sunday services. I remember Rabbi Marx as a very likable guy, with a pleasant personality and a good sense of humor, yet obviously extremely intelligent.

On January 2, 1955, Dr. Burton resigned to become the minister of a community church at Westport, Oregon. Immediately, a pulpit committee began to hold a series of small group meetings of the membership to find a successor for Dr. Burton. In the interim, the Rev. Daniel M. Welch (a Unitarian) led services while the pulpit committee sought a new minister. 

On March 27, 1955, shortly after he graduated from the University of Chicago’s Divinity School, the Rev. Sterling W. McHarg, (of the Christian Church) preached his first sermon as minister of The Fellowship. It was under his guidance that the building program continued through fruition. On July 26, 1956, ground was broken for the sanctuary.

 Once again, it was constructed almost entirely by volunteer labor from members of The Fellowship. Though few, if any, had careers in the building trades, they became unpaid carpenters, electricians, painters, and roofers. Every weekend for three years the men of The Fellowship worked on the building. Some worked nights and on holidays.  Others (both men and women), who were unable to help with the actual construction, contributed to the effort in other ways. For example, the Women’s Fellowship made substantial financial contributions, as well as preparing and serving meals to the Saturday and Sunday construction crews.

Long before the sanctuary was completed my labor contributions became, if not significant, substantial. My father’s electrical expertise and supervision remained indispensable. On July 26, 1959, exactly three years to the day after the groundbreaking, the sanctuary was consecrated.


From its inception The Fellowship sought ways to express its religious convictions in acts of service. Under the direction of The Fellowship’s first paid minister, Rev. Thomson, in 1936 a plot of land was purchased and members of The Fellowship built a five-room house for a family of 11 whose two-room log cabin had burned down in the small community of Vasper near Lake City.

Over the years working with other Norris churches, the Women’s Fellowship (founded in June, 1939) has helped provide food, clothing, shelter, medicine, and utilities for countless individuals and families throughout the county and the region. Much of the money to finance these acts of service was raised by the annual Church Bazaar and other fund raising events of the Women’s Fellowship.

The Fellowship’s Young Peoples Group was also involved in many fund raising and service projects. During Halloween each year, the group would gather in the educational building, divide up into small groups and canvas the town, trick-or-treating for UNICEF.  Afterward we would return with our donations and then play games, pull taffy, and party.

For many years the entire town would also gather in the Norris School auditorium for a Halloween costume competition. The evening was always immensely entertaining.  There were awards given for both children and adults. The grand prize inevitably would go to Gary Fuis (at least twice). There was always great anticipation each year on what inventive costume Gary and his father would devise. They entered their most memorable creation the year that Gary came as the Headless Horseman, with a remarkable likeness of his head tucked under his right arm.

If I’m not mistaken that was the same year (possibly 1955 or 1956) my father won for most original adult costume when he came dressed as Hazel – Ted Key’s famous cartoon character – the wry, take-charge, live-in maid of the Baxter family. In 1961 the single-panel comic strip that ran in the Saturday Evening Post for many years was adapted into a sitcom for NBC, starring Shirley Booth as Hazel. Though Ms Booth received two Emmys and a number of nominations for her performance as Hazel, I must admit that I’m rather partial to my father’s incomparable presentation of the character.

I will never forget watching him haughtily saunter down the center isle of the standing-room-only packed auditorium wearing a black dress with a little white frilly headpiece, collar and apron, carrying a broom. As a murmur of laughter began to swell from the folks in the back rows, heads in the front of the auditorium began to turn. Soon the entire audience was roaring hysterically. By the time my father reached the stage everyone was standing, enthusiastically applauding his performance.


As a child the major influences on the development of my philosophical belief system (beyond The Fellowship community, my parents, friends and neighbors) came from two sources – literature (mainly from Samuel Clemens, Victor Hugo and H. G. Wells) and the international community through radio and television.

As I have mentioned before, my mother was a prolific reader of both fiction and non-fiction. She read to me all of the classics. We had a large number of books in our home, including a set of the Great Books and the Encyclopedia Britannica. The community library was also well used.

My father loved crossword puzzles. Though he only had a fifth-grade education, he became a master of solving them. He believed that the best part of solving a good crossword puzzle was learning something new. Therefore, reference books were essential in our home, including dictionaries, atlases, and a good encyclopedia, all of which were well used. And, not just by my father. Through his own experience he learned that the process of looking something up was extremely beneficial in developing memory and expanding knowledge. As a result, instead of directly answering a question you knew full well he knew the answer to, he would often say, “look it up.”

My mother was an avid listener to WOR out of New York City and the Long John Nebel's radio talk show. On Friday nights I would often sit up and listen with her late into the wee-small-hours. A frequent guest of Long John’s was a man by the name of Khigh Dheigh (pronounced Kye Dee). If you ever saw the original Manchurian Candidate, he was Dr. Yen Lo or if you ever watch Hawaii Five-O, he was Chinese agent Wo Fat.

Khigh Dheigh was not just an actor. He had a doctorate in theology and in his later years was the Rector for a Taoist Sanctuary in Tempe, Arizona called Inner Truth Looking Place. Though there were many, the one phrase I heard him speak back in 1958 when I was only 14 years old that I have never forgotten was, "If you only know one religion you know none."

From that point on I began a life quest to learn as much as I possibly could about all of the world’s religions. In the possess I soon realized that religion, a belief system which attempts to explain the cause and nature of the Universe and the purpose of life through a belief in a supernatural being, made no sense to me. It still doesn’t.

To this day I have never been able to rap my mind around the concept. It is totally illogical. The Universe, to me, appears infinite, both in time and space, having no beginning and no end. And, therefore, no place for an omnipotent creator to reside or exist.

Of course, I recognize the paradox of an infinite Universe being made up of what seems to be finite creations (like myself) that come into existence and sooner or later become extinct – “For dust thou art, and unto dust thou shall return.” [Genesis 3:19] This is merely the 'changing nature' of what is, the transformation of matter into energy and energy into matter.

It’s a fact: life is not everlasting. Though the phenomenon may be absurd and discomforting to the mind of man, it gives me no solace whatsoever to perceive what is as what isn’t. My thoughts, beliefs and the writing of this memoir are the mere, yet phenomenal result, of an evolutionary history that stretches back billions of years, if not forever.

Throughout my childhood I received no religious indoctrination from anyone within The Fellowship community, including my parents. I was not only free, but encourage to actively explore and seek truth were ever I might find it. From everyone I received moral guidance through their words and conduct, which always seemed to be consistently harmonious.


Believers in the supernatural define atheism as the rejection of the belief in the existence of a deity. Therefore, according to their definition, I am not an atheist for I do not deny or reject their belief in the existence of a deity. I merely hold that nothing supernatural exists in or outside the Universe other than that which exists within their minds. One cannot reject or deny what does not exist.

Circular reasoning in which the proposition to be proved is assumed implicitly or explicitly within the premise is illogical and fallacious. Conjuring up a mental concept or image and then asserting that it must exist for others to perceive is not only irrational it is insane. 

The fundamental difference between those who are religious and those who are not is that those who believe in the existence of the supernatural do so by faith and faith alone. 

Faith (when used in a religious or theological context) does not rest on logical proof or material evidence. It implies a trusting reliance and/or confident belief in a supernatural and transcendent reality beyond what is real, self-evident, certain, demonstrable and natural. 

Granted there may be an array of reasons why an individual may choose to believe in a transcendent reality. For over half a century I have read, studied and discussed the historical, philosophical and psychological development of religious beliefs, teachings and practices throughout the world. I conclude that most folks (historically and presently) who believe in a divine presence do so out of fear and ignorance – a fear of the ultimate unknown (death) and an ignorance (lack of knowledge) of the historical and scientific evidence of what is.

I recognize that it is extremely difficult to deal with the absurdity of life and death. The human mind naturally seeks meaning and purpose. I understand how mysticism, a belief in a supernatural omnipotent being with universal authority and power, could provide comfort and support in a meaningless Universe. 

I have no quarrel with anyone’s beliefs as long as they remain benign and do not inflict harm on others. 

With that said, a quest for the truth to understand what is and the questionable conviction that God is the answer are significantly different endeavors. One is intellectually honest and the other is not. For thousands of years we have been told by Believers that without religion human beings are no more than ruthless egocentric animals fighting for our share of life’s sustenance. Only through religion and God’s grace and forgiveness can we acquire a moral compass.

Nonsense! In fact, both logic and history inform us that religion actually prevents us from fulfilling our evolved intrinsic moral responsibilities. With our highly developed mental capacity to choose one action over another, our motives (not our theology) are what determine our moral competence. In fact, if there were a god, one would have to ignore its existence in order for one’s motives to be pure, honorable, and just – a mental hurdle, which, if not impossible, is extremely difficult to accomplish.

What determines whether an act has been morality initiated is motive (the reason one chooses to act in a particular way). It should be obvious that morality becomes corrupted when our motives are influenced or manipulated by the benevolence and/or fear of God – by any reward and/or punishment. 

The choice of a particular action or course one chooses (if it is to be moral) must be free of coercion, and therefore, always carefully and cognitively selected. Furthermore, a belief in the supernatural (as history has clearly shown) has never guaranteed obedience to the laws of any religious faith, let alone adherence to any moral standard. 

Morality does not require one to be heroic, to disregard one’s interests over the interests of others. It merely obliges that the basic needs and interests of other sentient beings should always take precedence over one’s wanton desires. In other words, reciprocity is essential. We must care for others, as we would like for them to care for us.

Furthermore, morality cannot be arbitrary. In order to truly live a moral life one must treat all living sentient beings with the same consideration and respect, and not just the members of one’s family, community, nation, race, ethnic heritage, gender, religious affiliation, philosophical perspective, political ideology, and/or species. I would also add that morally we are obliged to revere and care for all non-sentient elements of the Universe that provide and sustain life.

Clearly the concept of the supernatural and the ethic of reciprocity originate from the human mind, however, one is most often fashioned and formed from fear and ignorance while the other is inspired by a desire to do what is right and just.

Intellectual integrity demands the truth. More likely than not, if the powers of the supernatural were perceived by its believers to be ineffective (unable to reward or punish), the number of so-called non-believers would greatly increase, immediately reducing the theological exploitation of ignorance and fear.

Without the reward of Heaven and the damnation of Hell, Christianity would not have become one of the world’s foremost religions.  It would have remained an insignificant Jewish sect if Saul of Tarsus and other early Christian leaders had not been so successful in convincing gentiles that "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." 

Is it not self-evident that there is absolutely nothing moral about that declaration? Though it was (and remains) a highly successful marketing ploy, it is, in fact, a veiled threat, exploiting man’s fears and ignorance and not a moral initiative. 

Most, if not all, belief systems have within their constituencies zealots and fanatics – whether they are based on a systematic and logical quest to comprehend the unknown, or rooted in some repressive religious faith devised to help cope with the absurdity and reality of life and death.

 When a belief system requires an acceptance and affirmation from others, beware! Proselytizing will only be the first of many perverse tactics employed to try and convert non-believers. Ultimately, if all else fails, the definitive tactical strategy becomes intimidation through terrorism and murder. 

Nearly every religion (including Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, as well as the teachings of Confucius and other ethical philosophers) has proclaimed that the most concise and fundamental principle of morality is the Ethic of Reciprocity (more commonly known as The Golden Rule). Nevertheless, many, if not most, religious leaders (in the name of their deity) end up using perverse manipulation to win over converts -- the reward of salvation and the fear of everlasting damnation in order to intimidate and “scare the hell out” of their followers. 

The members of most of these religious faiths are able to site numerous religious passages and texts from their holy books to validate and defend there depraved actions. The U. S. slave trade, for example, was justified through scripture. There are many passages within the Bible that clearly promote and approve of slavery, informing the reader of how to obtain slaves, how hard to beat them, and even when and how one may have sex with them.

There are countless passages from the Torah, the Bible and the Qur'an that provoke and encourage their followers to subdue and murder their religious rivals. When the fundamentalist believers in the supernatural unequivocally believe that their sacred text is the divine word of God almighty (rather than profane writings from mere mortal like themselves), there is absolutely nothing anyone can do or say to prevent their holy wrath from venting itself. 

Besides, they are only following the lead of the mythological and supernatural fathers of their faiths. Revealed within all these sacred texts is a manipulative and sadistic being with a serious personality disorder. A being that has demonstrated time and time again within the pages of these revered so-called sacred writings a pervasive pattern of cruel, demeaning and aggressive behavior, using physical cruelty and violence for the purpose of establishing dominance, while seeming to be amused by and taking pleasure in both the psychological and physical abuse and suffering of all living sentient creatures.

No wonder throughout history most human cruelty has been initiated by proponents of one religion or another. Despite what they wish for us to believe, morality does not reside with the believers in the supernatural. In fact, unlike non-believers, there are (as I have tried to articulate) some daunting self-imposed impediments that must be overcome in order for believers in the supernatural to fulfill their moral responsibilities.

 In closing, though there is nothing better than a good laugh (except maybe a good sneeze and, of course, that toe-curling wave of pleasure that makes even us so-called atheists call-out for God) I am compelled to ask: why would anyone revere an omnipotent being who could have easily created fearless, intelligent, and decent human beings, yet obviously preferred to make fearful, ignorant, and corrupt ones; who could have easily created a heaven here on earth, but chose to created a world of suffering for millions of innocent men, women, and children, as well as other sentient beings; who espouses justice, mercy, forgiveness, and the Golden Rule, while utilizing the fear of damnation and hell as a contrivance to intimidate and coerce his imperfect creations to do good works; who mouths morals to all his flawed offspring, and yet, lacks the understanding that morality can neither be arbitrary nor be promoted with promises of reward and/or threats of punishment; who states in Leviticus 25:44 that one may actually possess slaves provided they are purchased from a neighboring nation; and who hypocritically condemns immorally offensive acts, while committing them all himself, proudly proclaiming them throughout his so-called Holy Scripture?

Though they may be sufficient to keep you in line

Though they may be sufficient to keep you in line,
Reward and punishment are never divine.
For there's nothing more deceitful or insincere
Than honor or favor based upon profit or fear.

So, if you adhere to a straight and narrow path
Simply because you fear the fate of pharaoh's wrath,
Or worship a deity so that you might live in
Some celestial city for the freely forgiven,

You might as well sell the devil your soul
For all his apparel, his revel and gold.
For if fear's your motive or gain's your aim,
However you so live, the verdict's the same.

For in truth, the only truth there is to live by,
Isn't a tooth for a tooth or an eye for an eye.
It's never let your fear, your desire, or your greed
Ever interfere with another's dire need.

Although actions, for sure, speak louder than words,
If your motives aren't pure nothing else will be heard.
So, whatever your fate, your reward, or your plight,
Choose love over hate, never wrong over right.

About Me

My photo
I was born and raised in East Tennessee. I have been an ethical vegetarian for over forty years. After graduating summa cum laude from Tennessee State University, I became a psychiatric teacher-counselor and Outdoor Education Coordinator for Cumberland House School in Nashville, Tennessee. A federally funded research and demonstration project I helped coordinate in southern Arizona received national media and Congressional attention in 1970 when it demonstrated the feasibility of utilizing microwave transmission for mobile medical units in isolated rural areas. Between 1991-97 I was the Executive Director of The Nicholas Group and Executive Producer and writer of an award winning national PBS documentary about the mental health delivery system for children and their families funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Besides being an artist, photographer and writer, I am a highly skilled wilderness instructor. I have directed groups of all ages and abilities in a wide range of outdoor education adventures. I have traveled extensively watching the sun rise and set over such diverse and exotic locals as the Great Wall of China and the Cliffs of Moher.