Edward J. Meeman
Cornelius Amory Pugsley State Medal Award, 1963
Edward John Meeman (1889-1966) received the state/regional level Pugsley Medal in 1963. He was a newspaperman and a conservationist who was born in Evansville, Indiana. Immediately after graduation from Evansville High School in 1904 he took a job as a club reporter with the Evansville Press, which had been started by the Scripps organization. He intended to earn money so that he could go to college, but he became so fascinated with newspaper work that he never did go to college. He helped to establish the young newspaper and eventually became its managing editor. After 14 years working at the Indiana newspaper, he moved to Tennessee where he was to spend another 45 years in newspaper work.
It was an expansion period of The Scripps-Howard newspapers when he was invited in 1921 by Robert Scripps to go to Knoxville, Tennessee, to start a newspaper, The Knoxville News. The venture was successful and the News bought its competitor, The Sentinel, in 1926, whereupon Meeman became editor of the combined newspaper, The News-Sentinel, in 1926.
Meeman was a gentle but forceful champion of causes during his nearly 60 years as a newspaperman. As editor of both The News and its successor The News-Sentinel, Meeman was a prime mover in the movement to establish Great Smoky Mountains National Park. He was described by an historian of the park as "an instrumental figure in the Smoky Mountain park movement." He later recalled his experiences in the area:
In 1921 as a young man, I went to Knoxville to start a newspaper, the Knoxville News, for the Scripps-Howard organization. To find recreation after the arduous, though pleasing work of launching a new newspaper, on weekends I took a little coach on a logging railroad up into the Great Smoky Mountains where there was a summer resort at Elkmont. The railroad went up a gorge, and followed the course of the Little River, which tumbled clean and white-foamed over the great boulders which it had washed for centuries and eons. Across the stream one could see masses of rhododendron and laurel. Oak and pine and hemlock reached to the sky. I was amazed to find the climate and vegetation of Canada in the heart of the sunny south.Meeman noted that the National Park Service had a strict rule that all lands for a national park had to be donated, not acquired by congressional appropriation. They did this so that lands unworthy of national park status would not be wished on them through politics.
This situation called for a long and hard campaign that started in 1923 and did not end until 1940, when the park was dedicated. The public had to be aroused and brought to one mind on the importance of the project to the region. Donations had to be sought, legislators, governors, senators and philanthropists persuaded. Enemies and rivals had to be defeated.
The campaign involved winning public support for the idea through a constant flow of photographic articles and editorials in the newspaper; encouraging the state legislature and city of Knoxville to commit funds to purchase the land; supporting a fund raising campaign to raise private donations; and encouraging the involvement of Arno B. Cammerer, at that time assistant director of the NPS, who was instrumental in persuading the Rockefeller family to commit $5 million to the project. He summarized the Knoxville News-Sentinel's role in the following terms:
Meeman battled the efforts of the power companies to gain possession of dam sites on the Tennessee River, and he laid the foundations for their public possession and the establishment of the Tennessee Valley Authority. For more than eight years before the TVA was established in 1933, Meeman had campaigned through his newspaper for flood and erosion control and public power development on the Tennessee River through the construction of a dam on Cove Creek, later the site of the TVA's Norris Dam.
The editor sat in the councils of the park movement and went with them on the field trips. We reported the news, the activities of the citizens working for the park, accurately and zestfully. We played it up. When a crisis arose, we played that up.
When enemies struck at the park project, we hit back with hammer blows on our editorial page. We praised the citizens who were working so unselfishly. When skul duggery was afoot, we turned on a revealing light. We exposed the machinations of the chief foe of the park movement, Attorney James B. Wright.
He cited in his paper the success of public power at Seattle and Niagara. By 1930, through his and others' efforts, Congress had been so impressed that both houses passed a bill providing for a government dam at Cove Creek. Meeman had been in Washington for the final push. Leaving, he found President Herbert Hoover on the train with him. Hoover was known to be dubious about the Cove Creek project. Meeman discussed the just-passed bill with him, and got a promise from him that he would not veto the bill. Elated, Meeman got off the train and wired the good news to his paper in Knoxville, which printed the story under a page one banner-line. But Hoover nevertheless, vetoed the bill, so the development of the Tennessee River for power, flood-control and conservation had to wait three years for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Senator George W. Norris and their leadership which brought about the TVA. Later, when TVA needed one large city as a power customer to make it a success, Meeman launched a campaign which brought TVA to Memphis.
Meeman moved to the larger city of Memphis in 1931 as editor of The Memphis Press-Scimitar, a position he held for 31 years. Here he continued his work for conservation. In 1933 he went with a group of American city officials to study municipal government in Germany. He recalled:
In the course of my studies, I visited the state parks of Germany. I thought: 'If a poor country like Germany can afford a state forest park near every city, why can't rich America. I returned to Memphis determined that our county should have one. It seemed difficult, but I remembered how the Great Smoky park had been created by citizens by (1) keeping the goals steadily before them, (2) taking one step at a time, and (3) asking the cooperation of everyone whose cooperation you need and having faith you will get it.
Thus, he initiated and brought to fruition a project which created Shelby Forest State Park, a natural forest area of 12,500 acres located only eight miles from the city limits of Memphis. Subsequently, he lived on a farm abutting the Shelby Forest. After his death this park was renamed Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park in his honor.
He also lent his support to the City Beautiful Commission in its efforts to beautify the city. He helped to organize the Friends of the Land and the Wolf River Watershed Associations. His paper for many years conducted an annual SOS, "Save-Enrich Our Soil" contest which encouraged and rewarded the conservation efforts of farmers who engaged in better agricultural practices throughout the Mid-South area.
Meeman wrote with clarity and vigor, and he continued to devote that talent to the causes of conservation and ecology even after he retired as editor of the Press-Scimitar in 1962. As conservation editor of all Scripps-Howard newspapers from 1962 until his death in 1966, he repeatedly urged upon his readers an awareness of the precious values of natural resources. In the late 1950s he was appointed to the Department of Interior Advisory Board for National Parks, Historic Sites, Buildings and Monuments. His leadership played a key role in congress passing both the Wilderness Bill and the Land and Water Conservation Fund Bill in 1964, a fact recognized by the National Wildlife Federation bestowing its Communication's Award on him that year.
Meeman was a conservationist and an outdoorsman, who strived to help preserve natural resources. To him, his profession was more than just publishing the news and commenting on it -- it was public service; not merely doing something for the public, but stimulating the people to do things for themselves.
In 1949, he established the Edward J. Meeman Foundation to ensure his money would work for causes he deemed important far after he was gone. Included in its objectives were good journalism and the promotion of conservation of natural resources. The poor immigrant's son who started his newspaper career at $4 a week left the foundation with an endowment of $2 million. The Meeman Foundation gave $5,000 awards annually, recognizing excellence in conservation writing. Thus, one of the later outgrowths of Meeman's influence was the establishment of the Meeman Archive at the University of Michigan's School of Natural Resources in 1982. Its goal is to preserve and make accessible to the public outstanding journalism concerning conservation, natural resources, and the environment. It was funded by the Scripps-Howard Foundation. The Archive obtained most of the articles on file from two national journalism contests: the Meeman awards sponsored by the Scripps-Howard Foundation, and the Stokes Awards sponsored by the Washington Journalism Center.
On learning of his death in 1966, the First Lady, Ladybird Johnson said: "The voice and pen of Mr. Meeman have been stilled. But his invaluable work over many years in conservation is a lasting legacy to all Americans. Through his efforts we shall all be richer in the beauty of our land." And Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall said: "...for many years he was the leading voice for conservation in the mid-continent area. Over the years, his crusades for conservation resulted in landmark decisions which have affected the face of the continent and enhanced the future for all citizens."
Meeman wrote the following article in the September 1961 Rotarian Magazine. It is an extraordinarily profound and prophetic writing expressing both the challenge for conservationists and Meeman's confidence that it would be met.
It took Nature billions of years to prepare the earth as a home for man. When the work was completed; it was seen to be good. The Earth contained every opportunity and every challenge that man should desire. The safe land and the perilous sea; rugged mountains and fertile plains; and everywhere that climax of Nature's scene, the age-old forest, ever renewing and enriching itself.
In a few thousand years, Man has laid waste the earth. America, a scene of especial variety and richness, Man has needed but a few centuries to despoil
It was said formerly that Man was but a puny thing against the great relentless power of nature. Today Man is not puny in his power over Nature. In the country, he has laid low the forests and left gaunt gullies in their places, and the good soil washes to the sea; in the cities, hard brick and concrete over the gentle earth, between the cities, vast junk heaps are piled up from the misuse which Man has made of the wealth and beauty which were his legacy from Nature.
No, Man is not puny in power. He is puny only in wisdom.'Let's have a road here.' The shoulder of a mountain is dynamited. Concrete (which 'grows harder and whiter with age') is laid down. That mountain can never be the same again. It is forever scarred, and must remain so through all the millions or billions of years that Man will dwell here. Was the road needed? Perhaps. But what if it were not needed? Then what a crime! The Earth is not yours, O Man, for your own moment of time. It belongs to all men of all the aeons. Be careful what you do to it, for what you do to it is irreparable!
His growth in power has outrun his growth in wisdom. He has befouled his own nest. A befouled nest drops to earth and by the beneficent processes of Nature, soon becomes clean, soft earth again. But foul sores and the giant scars made by Man on the face of the Earth can never be entirely healed. Man is destroying his eternal home.
'Let's straighten this stream.' The giant steam shovel is brought in. The winding stream, flowing clear over the rocks between trees and grass, becomes a foul, muddy canal with caving banks. The fish which gleamed in its clear waters are no more.
'Let's build a factory here; the river will make a convenient sewer.' The dark black waste is poured in and the stench rises.
'Let's cut down this forest; will make shacks for our slaves in the cities.' And having cut down part, we toss away a careless cigarette and the rest of it is gone. Gone beyond repair, because with the trees has gone the humus, which is to the earth as precious and as destructible and irreplaceable as the fine textured cheek of a beautiful woman.
'Here is a spring; what a good flow!' -- and we encase its sweet lips with concrete and pipe.
'Let's drain this swamp; it will make a nice farm to raise some more food for our fat bellies.' The sun beats down and what was cool, rich ooze, breeding and sustaining manifold life, bakes and cracks into desolate chips. Where are the reeds and the lilies? Where shall abide the turtle, the goose, the crane, the swan?
Let man turn within and find eternal life, and the conscience and grace which say: 'I live not today for myself and my own times alone; I love and act and refrain for all men and all time. I will save the beautiful Earth for the uncounted men and the uncounted years that come after me.'
Then we shall begin to conserve and restore. We shall recognize that this primeval forest is the veritable Garden of Eden, which we abandoned in our folly, and to which we return. For it was with primeval forest that God covered the earth before He said: 'It is finished and it is good.' It was the final boon that He gave to His children; but we destroyed it as a child breaks his toys. We shall set aside the primeval forest where yet it remains, but we must not be content with that. We must restore. We must carefully plant all the varied growths that made up this primeval forest and patiently wait until Nature restores something near to the likeness of what we did not appreciate. It will take centuries; but we must know the amplitude of time.
We must never set explosive or drill to earth without knowing: 'This is forever,' and asking, 'Have we the right?'
Awakened and enlightened Man shall turn to his junk heaps, those excreta of civilization, and by his chemistry convert them to the materials for articles of human use, or else into good clean earth again.
He will cleanse his streams and see them sparkling in the sunshine, again fit for Man and fish to disport in. Even the self-cleaning ocean will not be a dump -- he will love it too much to insult it. The Beach, where life began and today returns in the final flower of cosmic consciousness to contemplate the beauty of the universe, will gleam white in the sunshine of a redeemed Earth. This same sunshine, touching the trunks of the trees rising behind, turns to gold the columns of what was Man's first and will be his last temple -- the Eternal Forest.
Howard, Edwin (1976) The Editorial We: A Posthumous Autobiography by Edward J. Meeman. Memphis: Memphis State University