Tag Archives: civil

Group Triying to Preserve Highlander Folk School

A Nashville-based historic preservation group has started working to buy what it can of the the Highlander Folk School’s Grundy County property, restore its historical look and protect it from development, reports the Tennessean.

“It’s really one of the first places where you see African-Americans and whites that are actually congregating to talk about social issues,” David Currey, chairman of the Tennessee Preservation Trust, said during a visit to Highlander’s old library. “Trying to get our hands on this piece of property allows us to tell that story again in the context of this rural setting, which is what it was at the time.”

Currey said he’s trying to secure options to buy the property, now reduced to two cabins and a library beside a placid mountain lake. The land he’s working to assemble totals 13.5 acres, just a small fraction of the 200 acres where Myles Horton started the school in 1932.

The preservation trust hopes to raise about $1 million through a national campaign to buy and possibly renovate the property, Currey said. It would then turn the site over to another group to operate it, perhaps an organization created for that purpose.

Currey said he hopes Highlander Research and Education Center, which Horton started once the state shut down his original organization, and The University of the South in nearby Sewanee will be involved.

Pam McMichael, director of Highlander Research and Education Center, which has been based in New Market, Tenn., northeast of Knoxville, since 1971, said the preservation trust’s plans could “bring heightened public awareness and engagement with Highlander’s work today.”

McMichael’s organization, which owns the Highlander Folk School name, is in the middle of its own, $3.2 million fundraising campaign. It trains about 3,000 people a year to seek “justice in all its forms,” she said.

The story’s narrative lead on some of the Highlander history:

Rosa Parks trained here a few months before she refused to give up her seat on an Alabama bus. “We Shall Overcome” became a civil rights anthem here. Student activists from Nashville held retreats in the lakeside buildings, and Eleanor Roosevelt and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. came to visit.

More than 50 years after the state of Tennessee seized Highlander Folk School’s property, not much remains of a place that gave so much inspiration to people who fought for social justice while posing such a visceral threat to the status quo that its founder was accused of being a Communist agitator

Nathan Bedford Forest’s Birthday Celebrated in Park That Doesn’t Bear His Name

The sound of cannon fire boomed across Health Sciences Park in Memphis on Sunday as more than 200 people came out to celebrate the 192nd birthday of Nathan Bedford Forrest, reports The Commercial Appeal
This year’s event marked the first at the Medical Center site since the Memphis City Council changed the name of that park and two others with Confederate themes, but speakers throughout the day proudly maintained that they were celebrating in Forrest Park.
Forrest, described as “a military genius,” enlisted as a private in the Confederate army in 1861 and became a lieutenant general by the end of the Civil War. He also continues to be a figure despised by many because of his early leadership role in the Ku Klux Klan.
The celebration was sponsored by the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the General Nathan Bedford Forrest Historical Society.
In February, the City Council changed the names of Confederate Park, Jefferson Davis Park and Forrest Park to Memphis Park, Mississippi River Park and Health Sciences Park, respectively.

Rev. Will Campbell, Country Preacher and Civil Rights Leader, Dies at 88

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Rev. Will Campbell, a white minister who drew acclaim for his involvement in the civil rights movement, has died at the age of 88.
John Egerton, a close friend of Campbell’s for nearly 50 years, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Campbell died Monday night from complications following a stroke he had about two years ago. Egerton said he was contacted by Campbell’s son, who was at the minister’s bedside in Nashville when he died.
“He never really recovered from it,” Egerton said of the stroke.
Campbell was born in 1924 in Amite County, Miss.
After a stint in the military, he attended Yale, where he got a divinity degree in 1952 and then headed to Taylor, La., to preach at Taylor Southern Baptist Church.
He later came to Nashville, where he was described as a staunch leader for civil rights, and was well respected by others in the movement.

Continue reading

Ethics Commission Levies $10K Penalties Against 3 Planning Commissioners

The Tennessee Ethics Commission has decided against penalizing 28 planning commissioners around the state who filed financial disclosures late, while voting to levy fines of $10,000 each against three who failed to file any report at all.
City, county and regional planning commissioners were not required to file the financial disclosure statements demanded of most local government officials until this year. A bill passed by the Legislature last year mandated the filings for the first time and they were due Jan. 31.
Drew Rawlins, executive director of the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, had some difficulty in notifying planning commissioners around the state of the new law since it appears there is no listing of all in any one place. And he said that some planning commissioners — many of whom serve on a voluntary, unpaid basis — apparently resigned rather than file a statement listing their financial interests.
“We’ve had several planning commissioners call and say, ‘I’m resigning. I’m not going to file’,” he told the commission.
Later, Rawlins said staff did not keep a record of how many such calls were received.
“It might not have been more than 10 or 15,” he said. “Some just called and cussed us out. … They were not happy about doing this.”
Rawlins and the commissioners said during their discussion that, given the requirement was new, those who filed after the deadline — some more than two months late — would simply get a letter saying the commission would take no action, but they would be subject to penalty for late filing if late again next year. The penalty for late filing can be up to $25 per day.
On the other hand, those who had received a notice of the law and never filed a report despite follow-up letters after the deadline had passed, will face the maximum penalty for failure to file, $10,000.
The three who now face $10,000 civil penalties, according to commission documents, are Mike Floyd of the Maury County Planning Commission, Carroll Cate of the Polk County Planning Commission and Cindy Marlow of the Adamsville Planning Commission. They will get letters later this week advising them of the penalty.
If the three now file a disclosure form and offer an apology or explanation, they can ask the commission to reconsider the penalty. People in that situation traditionally can have the penalty reduced substantially or eliminated.
“They (commissioners) are trying to get their attention,” said Rawlins.
State Rep. Kent Calfee, R-Kingston, and Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, introduced a bill in the Legislature earlier this year that would have exempted planning commissioners in their area from filing a disclosure, but later withdrew the measure.

Maxine Smith Dies, Aged 83

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Maxine A. Smith, an influential Memphis civil rights leader, died Friday. She was 83.
Her death was confirmed by Memphis Mayor AC Wharton on his Facebook page.
Smith, retired executive secretary of the Memphis branch of the NAACP and a former city school board member, had chronic heart problems, according to The Commercial Appeal (http://bit.ly/11K3KoH).
She was a part of every significant chapter in the city’s storied history of race relations over half a century, from protest to integration to busing to the rise of black political power.
“Today we mourn the passing of civil rights icon, Maxine Smith,” Wharton said on Facebook. “With her death, Memphis has lost a legendary leader for human rights and one of the brightest stars in the great expanse of our city’s history.”

Continue reading

Bill Blocking Local Governments from Renaming Parks Goes to Gov

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal to bar local governments from renaming parks or monuments honoring Tennessee’s military figures is headed to the governor for his consideration.
The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro was approved 26-3 by the Senate on Thursday. The companion bill passed the house 69-22 last month.
Sponsors say the legislation is aimed at preventing shifting views and changing “demographics” from erasing memorials to historical figures from the Civil War and other conflicts.
The bill would allow local governments seeking to change the names of parks to seek permission from the Tennessee Historical Commission.
Critics say it should be left to local governments to decide the naming of parks.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is expected to review the legislation once it reaches his desk.

Rep. Sparks Organizes Program Honoring Confederate Spy

By simply relocating his office space at the Tennessee State Capitol, state Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna, learned a whole new side to local history regarding Civil War spy DeWitt Smith Jobe, reports the Daily News Journal.
“I asked (Speaker Beth Hartwell) for a new office overlooking the Capitol and the Sam Davis Monument because Sam Davis kind of represents Smyrna,” Sparks said. “I thought, ‘I’m going to do a little research on the Coleman Scouts and I came across (an article) about DeWitt Smith Jobe.”
Sparks, along with several local Civil War aficionados, convened Saturday at Giles Baptist Church on Rocky Fork Road for a program honoring the heroic life of Jobe, who was a member of the infamous Confederate spies known as the Coleman Scouts. About 50 people attended the presentation. Guest speakers included James Patterson, adjutant of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Greg Tucker, Rutherford County historian, and John Moore, a descendant of Jobe.
“Here I was, born and raised in Smyrna and I didn’t really know what all (Jobe) went through,” Sparks said, adding that he also discovered John Bridges’ book, “Three Cousins from Mechanicsville,” chronicling the heroic life of Jobe and his two relatives.
Jobe worked alongside fellow Coleman Scout Sam Davis, who is well-known for having hanged after refusing to betray his source. Sparks compared the scouts’ tenacity to that of the modern-day “A-Team.”
….”He was as much a hero as Sam Davis. He just didn’t have the publicity Sam Davis had,” Bridges said.
Jobe met a much more gruesome fate. Right before being captured by Union troops in August 1864, Jobe destroyed information he was carrying — he swallowed it — and refused to divulge the message. He was brutalized for days. Eventually, his tongue was severed and he died after being dragged by a galloping horse.

McDaniel Won’t Try to Overturn Memphis Park Re-naming

The state legislator sponsoring the bill that would ban renaming of historical parks and monuments across Tennessee tells the Commercial Appeal that he’s disappointed that the Memphis City Council hurriedly renamed three Confederate-themed parks, but he won’t try to force a reversal.
But another lawmaker said word of the council’s action in heading off McDaniel’s bill spread rapidly through the state legislature and could help the Shelby County suburbs’ efforts to establish their own school systems.
Rep. Steve McDaniel, R-Parkers Crossroads, said his bill isn’t aimed specifically at Memphis’ off-and-on disputes over Forrest Park and its statue of Confederate war hero Nathan Bedford Forrest, but was something he’s been thinking about for several years without pursuing. And because the City Council has already re-named the parks, he said he won’t try to make the state bill — which he said will probably take five to six weeks to pass — apply retroactively.
“I’m absolutely disappointed (in the council’s action). I don’t think that just because you disagree or don’t approve of the historical past that we should be changing the names of these parks or think about removing monuments. We’ve got monuments on the Capitol grounds that I wouldn’t have approved of putting there, but they are there and they are part of our history.
His “Tennessee Heritage Preservation Act” (House Bill 553) provides in part that “No statue, monument, memorial, nameplate, plaque, historic flag display, school, street, bridge, building, park, preserve, or reserve which has been erected for … any historical military figure, historical military event, military organization, or military unit, and is located on public property, may be renamed or rededicated.”
If the bill were already law, it would have blocked the City Council’s action Tuesday renaming Forrest Park as Health Sciences Park, Confederate Park as Memphis Park and Jefferson Davis Park as Mississippi River Park. Council members cited the pending state bill as their reason for moving swiftly to change the parks’ names.
…One suburban Shelby County state representative, who would not speak about the subject on the record, said the Council’s move may have unintended consequences, including helping suburban lawmakers win approval of another bill now in the works to allow new municipal school districts.
Suburban leaders have decided that court-ordered negotiations over new school systems in Shelby County have all but ground to a halt, and their best bet is state legislation that lifts a 15-year-old ban on new municipal school districts statewide. Such a bill is likely to have better chances of passing now than in the last two years, when legislators from elsewhere wanted to limit new districts to Shelby County — which a federal judge ruled is unconstitutional.

Memphis Parks: A New Civil War Battlefield

By Adrian Sainz, Associated Press
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The statue of Confederate fighter Nathan Bedford Forrest astride a horse towers above the Memphis park bearing his name. It’s a larger-than-life tribute to the warrior still admired by many for fiercely defending the South in the Civil War — and scorned by others for a slave-trading past and ties to the Ku Klux Klan.
Though the bloodiest war on American soil was fought 150 years ago, racially tinged discord flared before its City Council voted this week to strip Forrest’s name from the downtown park and call it Health Sciences Park. It also voted to rename Confederate Park as Memphis Park and Jefferson Davis Park as Mississippi River Park.
A committee has been formed to help the council decide on permanent names for the parks.
The changes have drawn praise from those who said bygone reminders of the Confederacy had to be swept away in what today is a racially diverse city. Critics cried foul, saying moves to blot out such associations were tantamount to rewriting the history of a Mississippi River city steeped in Old South heritage.
The struggle over Forrest’s legacy and moves to rename other parks highlights a broader national debate over what Confederate figures represent in the 21st century as a far more diverse nation takes new stock of the war on its 150th anniversary with the hindsight of the civil rights era.

Continue reading

Summerville Seeks End to Discrimination Via Legislation; Some Skeptical

With the “Tennessee Civil Rights Initiative” and related legislation, Sen. Jim Summerville says he is trying to end the last vestiges of discrimination in state government and public education and put everyone on equal footing insofar as race, gender and ethnicity goes.
Following the “mostly peaceful social revolution during the Dr. Martin Luther King era,” Summerville said in an interview, “there may have been a reason for preferences in hiring, in college admissions, in scholarships.”
But not anymore, said the Republican senator from Dickson, an adjunct professor at Austin Peay State University and author of several books involving history research.
“These laws just aren’t needed anymore,” he said. “It’s time to let it all go. We are at another level now.”

Continue reading