Protests at Oak Ridge gate opening (1949)


Some of the Oak Ridge dorm residents carry protest signs in the March 19, 1949 parade on Tennessee Avenue marking the opening of the gates at the Atomic City. If you double-click to enlarge the photo, you’ll see that some of the signs are protesting the Atomic Energy Commission jacking up rents at the dorms. (Department of Energy archives/Ed Westcott photo)

When I saw this photograph and increased the size to read the signs, I called Y-12 Historian Ray Smith to ask him for some information about what appeared to be protests taking place in the parade. Smith was on vacation in Yosemite National Park at the time, but he still returned my call and sent me some additional info by email.

“Yes, there was a huge protest about rent prices being raised by the Atomic Energy Commission,” Smith wrote. “Also a large number of Oak Ridge residents did not want the city opened up!”

For additional information, Smith passed along an excerpt from the writings of the late Bill Wilcox, the beloved Oak Ridge historian who died last year.

Here it is:

“1949 was a year that saw many aspects of life at Oak Ridge moving toward ‘normalcy.’ The Oak Ridger began its long years of service to the community in January. A major argument/fuss/war started when the AEC stopped paying the rent subsidy they had been paying on Dormitory rooms and the rental agency for the government passed it on to the residents as higher rents. The dorm residents screamed unfair, and the argument waxed hotter and hotter, finally climaxing in a Congressional Investigation and Hearing in Oak Ridge in April. The other sign of ‘normalcy’ that took folks minds off the gate opening was when all the bus drivers went on strike for more money. The Oak Ridger for March 2, 1949 carried the banner headline, 25,000 WITHOUT TRANSPORTATION IN BUS STRIKE. So at the same time the Government was trying to help sell us on how we needed ‘to grow up’ and be a nice normal community, we were getting a taste of how ‘nice’ this was going to be with rent hikes and strikes that affected lots of people.”

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About Frank Munger

Senior Writer Frank Munger covers the Dept. of Energy's Oak Ridge facilities and many related topics — nuclear weapons, nuclear waste and other things nuclear, environmental cleanup and science of all sorts. Atomic City Underground is, first and foremost, a news blog, but there's room for analysis, opinion and random thoughts that have no place else to go.