By Mark Roberts
Acting District Conservationist – Dresden Field Office
Most Weakley County residents would be surprised to learn that an event on a small farm between Dresden and Martin drew a crowd of up to an estimated 40,000 people. And, it happened 70 years ago this spring. For perspective, the population of Weakley County is currently about 33,000; this event captured the attention of more than the number of residents in the entire county.
What would it take today to draw such a crowd – a college football game? An outdoor concert? This event was centered around an issue that was critical in the 1940s in western Tennessee and in fact, the whole nation – soil erosion. It was important enough that Gov. Gordon Browning issued a Statewide Proclamation declaring Tuesday, April 19, 1949, as “Soil Defense Day.” Gov. Browning himself saw fit to attend the event, along with the “Father of Soil Conservation” Dr. Hugh Hammond Bennett. Dr. Bennett was responsible for leading a nationwide campaign to combat soil erosion and became the first Chief of USDA’s Soil Conservation Service. Tennessee Commissioner of Agriculture and future congressman Ed Jones were there that day too, and the event was covered live on the air by WSM radio’s Farm program director John McDonald. The event was front page news in the Weakley County Press, with one quote reading, “Leaders say that the most important event ever to take place in Weakley County in one day is Soil Defense Day.”
The time was 1949, just a few years after World War II ended….
For more on the history-making day and an entire section of ag-based and nutrition-oriented features, pick up a copy of the March 14 edition of the Weakley County Press.