N.C. conservationist saw Dust Bowl coming

“The main evangelist of the [U.S. Soil Conservation Service] was Hugh Hammond Bennett (“Big Hugh” or “the Chief”), the son of [an Anson County] cotton planter and a Chapel Hill graduate in soils and agronomy…

“In 1909, much to Bennett’s consternation, the Bureau of Soils announced: ‘The soil is the one indestructible, immutable asset that the nation possesses. It is the one resource that cannot be exhausted…’ For the next five decades, until he died in 1960, Hugh Bennett worked to correct that misconception.

“During the ’30s Bennett [played] for the soil the role Gifford Pinchot had once played for the forests. …As he was on the way to testify before a Congressional committee… Bennett learned that a great dust storm, which had originated in New Mexico [on “Black Sunday”], had almost reached the nation’s capital. Stalling and dawdling, he managed to keep the committee in session until a copper gloom had settled over the city and blotted out the light. ‘This, gentlemen,’ he announced with an impresario’s flourish, ‘is what I have been talking about!’ ”

— From “Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s” by Donald Worster (1979)

This account inexplicably omits the rest of Bennett’s comment, surely among the most vivid ever delivered before Congress: “There goes Oklahoma!”

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