Strike Flat the Thick World



Curry-Johnson, Sonja D

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My thesis for the George Mason Master of Fine Arts a fictionalized account of a historical event that profoundly impacted my mother’s family and greater community entitled Strike The Thick World Flat. It will explore loss in terms of family, community, and physical locality, as well as examine how politics, economics, race and the advent of the Cold War, shape the perspectives and destinies of a family through generations. In November 1950, The U.S. Atomic Energy Commission announced the construction of the Savannah River Plant, a facility dedicated to the production of plutonium in response to the Cold War. In order to do this, USAEC procured approximately 300square miles of land from three counties located in South Carolina, near the Georgia border, and gave the residents five months to move off of the land. Within these 300 sq. mi were three incorporated towns and thousands of outlying farms. My mother’s family lived just outside of the city limits of the largest of these towns, Ellenton, SC. Although my brother and I visited South Carolina most summers as children, we had no knowledge of this occurrence. My Aunt Minnie lived and still lives in New Ellenton, and we spent most of our time on her farm, but I never thought to ask after “Old” Ellenton. I was older, out of college and years into my profession that I heard one of my Aunt’s remark about the “old place” and how it was inaccessible to them, that I asked the right questions and the story tumbled out. Many aspects of this time spurred me to write about this “removal”. The enormity of such an endeavor: numerous buildings: churches, houses, municipal buildings and businesses were hoisted onto flatbed trucks and deposited 8 miles down the road, struck me as both theatrical and apocryphal. As I watched actual footage of this process, I wondered how various members of the community perceived this. In my book, I intend to filter this image from the point of view of four members of the fictional Hill family. I am also preoccupied by the injustice of the removal. The US Government, along with the DuPont Corporation, underbid the value of the land. As a result, most residents received a fraction of what their land was worth. Socio-economic status determined the terms of the property sales. Under the umbrella of this one act, also run the fault lines of race, class and gender which are integral to the telling of this story. Lastly, this story is not widely known. Most Americans have no idea that imminent domain could be so all-encompassing as to displace entire towns. In addition, Ellenton itself was the site of the first depository after the Depression, the first automatic telephone dialing service in the 1930s and other quaint historical events. But it was also the site of one of the bloodiest riots in response to Reconstruction, a fact that has also been all but lost to the annals. These stories are important, and I would like a wider audience to know and understand that import.


This thesis has been embargoed for 5 years. It will not be available until April 2021 at the earliest.


Ellenton, Family, Savannah River Plant, Eminent domain, African-American