Tag Archives: history

Sunday column: On legislators good, bad and waiting to be influenced

In a recent conversation, a political junkie friend pulled out a copy of a book, pointed to a quotation from Teddy Roosevelt’s pre-presidential days as a state legislator in New York more than a century ago and asked if his observation would hold true today in Tennessee’s Legislature.

The quote from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Bully Pulpit” — a recommended read, along with anything else by that gifted compiler and writer of historical politics — basically says the legislators Roosevelt knew during his era could be divided into three categories.

There were “the very good men,” said Roosevelt, those who were reform-minded with a broad public interest at heart. There were the “very bad men,” who were essentially owned by various business interests and subject to corruption. The third group was the majority, who were “neither very good nor very bad, but went one way or the other, according to the strength of the various conflicting influences acting around.” The categories were bipartisan, said Roosevelt, who considered himself a “progressive Republican” in a day when the term was not often labeled an oxymoron.

Today, of course, we have women as well as men serving in the Legislature, though most members are still men. Tennessee’s incoming 109th General Assembly has 21 members who didn’t serve in the 108th, which had 31 newcomers. That means 52 of the 132 state legislators are fairly fresh faces.

But, without knowing most of the incoming freshmen, it seems safe to say that the same three broad categories exist today in the Volunteer State as they did in Roosevelt’s day in New York’s Legislatorland. Maybe that’s true of any group of people.
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Board of Ed listens to complaints, praise of new history course

The state Board of Education heard Thursday from a small contingent of supporters and critics of the new Advanced Placement U.S. History course, but members offered no comments and took no action, reports The Tennessean.

Jane Robbins, of the conservative advocacy group American Principles Project, was the lone detractor to discuss the new course work. Robbins echoed some of the national criticism of the course, saying the new framework is “leftist” and focuses too much on negative aspects of U.S. history as opposed to “heroes.”

Trevor Packer, a senior vice president for The College Board who helped develop the new course framework, said Robbins’ criticism was “absurd.” He said the college board changed the course framework to help give teachers more flexibility in what they teach, and he’s received overwhelmingly positive responses from teachers nationwide since enacting the changes.

Thomas Schwartz, a history professor at Vanderbilt University, also voiced support for the new course framework.

Robbins was joined at the board meeting by members of the Tennessee Eagle Forum, a conservative advocacy group in the state. They want the state board to adopt a resolution that expresses “official disapproval” with the new test, and to potentially boycott the AP course if the framework isn’t changed.

The board offered the hearing after several state Republican lawmakers called for a review of the course. Board Chairman B. Fielding Rolston said the hearing fulfilled the requirements of the legislative request and the board couldn’t take any action on a resolution it just received moments before the meeting.

Bell, Gresham echo RNC attacks on American history course, seek state investigation

Advanced Placement U.S. History could become a new education battleground in Tennessee after a pair of Republican state senators have alleged the course leaves out key founding fathers, principles of the Declaration of Independence and iconic American figures, according to The Tennessean.

The allegations, the newspaper says, mirror attacks waged by conservatives nationally. And it comes a year after the same two senators took on social studies textbooks they said were biased, a push that resulted in lawmakers getting new say on who sits on the state’s textbook commission.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, and Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell, R-Riceville, have requested the Tennessee State Board of Education to conduct a review of new framework and materials used in the teaching of Advanced Placement U.S. History.

AP courses, overseen by The College Board, a private company that manages the SAT test, are elective high school classes that cover a range of subjects, allowing students to earn college credit if they score high enough on end-of-year exams.

The Republican National Committee earlier this month came out against the new framework The College Board has turned to for AP U.S. History — “APUSH,” as it is commonly called. Changes are reflected in final exams for the first time this year, but the RNC has called for a one-year delay. A column in the National Review earlier this week contends it will “force American high schools to teach U.S. history from a leftist perspective.”

“There are many concerns with the new APUSH framework, not the least of which is that it pushes a revisionist interpretation of historical facts,” echoed Gresham in a statement on Tuesday. “The items listed as required knowledge have some inclusions which are agenda-driven, while leaving out basic facts that are very important to our nation’s history.”

College Board officials have rejected such charges. But the two Tennessee senators want the state board of education to provide a public forum to let parents speak on the matter.

David Sevier, deputy director for the state board of education, said the board would likely follow the request. What the review would look like is unclear. He said the special hearing would likely be carved into the board’s regularly meeting schedule. It meets next in October.

Gresham and Bell — copying much of the language used in a resolution approved by the RNC — have alleged that the new AP U.S. History framework included “little or no discussion of the founding fathers and the principles of the Declaration of Independence.” Moreover, they say, the framework negatively portrays settlers’ explorations of America, American involvement in World War II, and the development of and victory in the Cold War.

The Commercial Appeal notes that the Bell-Gresham letter says “members of the General Assembly have received an increasing number of messages from constituents” about AP courses, including ‘complaints of inappropriate materials, inaccurate textbooks and revisionist history’.” Further:

Neither Bell nor Gresham directly responded Tuesday to a reporter’s request to review the complaints, but the Senate Republican Caucus’s press liaison said “the vast majority are from telephone calls to their offices,” that Bell routinely deletes email after answering it and that Gresham is concerned about a “breach of privacy” regarding release of email from constituents.

James Teague, superintendent of Fayette County Schools in Gresham’s home county, said his office has “not received a single complaint or concern” about AP U.S. history offered in his school system and that Gresham had not contacted him about the issue. State Department of Education spokeswoman Kelli Gauthier said her agency has received no formal complaints either.

Blackburn leads bipartisan push for national women’s museum

Tennessee’s U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn is leading a crusade to establish a new national museum dedicated to women’s history, reports The Washington Times.

With a record number of female lawmakers in Congress, there is bipartisan momentum to recognize the accomplishments of women without spending any taxpayer funds, they said.
“This would be a privately funded museum,” Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican, told MSNBC. (Note: MSNBC video HERE.)

She and Rep. Carolyn Maloney, New York, Democrat, said there is a nonprofit organization set up to drive the effort, although it is unclear where the museum would be located.

“We need a site to put all this together,” Mrs. Maloney said. (Passing thought note: Maybe, like Tennessee, the state where the Legislature cast the decisive vote on women’s suferage?)

The museum would cost $400 million to $500 million, MSNBC reported.

“I think women across the country, conservative and liberal, are going to say this is a worthy cause,” Mrs. Blackburn said.

“We need a site to put all this together,” Mrs. Maloney said.

The museum would cost $400 million to $500 million, MSNBC reported.

“I think women across the country, conservative and liberal, are going to say this is a worthy cause,” Mrs. Blackburn said.

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

Documentary on TN Capitol Premiers

News release from Secretary of State’s office:
It has endured an army occupation, the interment of two of its founding fathers, and a car cruising through its hallways. Not to mention its role as the site of many of the most important events in Tennessee’s history. The Tennessee State Capitol building has many great stories to tell – and some of those stories were revealed in a documentary about the building that premiered last week. In attendance were state legislators, department commissioners, representatives from preservation groups and others.
The documentary was created by the staff of the Tennessee State Library and Archives. It is the first part of a project that will eventually include a virtual tour of the Capitol building and its grounds, and feature stories about the building and influential people in Tennessee history.
When completed, the entire project will be burned onto DVDs that will be distributed to schools throughout the state.
The project is a result of the Tennessee General Assembly’s approval of Public Chapter No. 557, sponsored by Representative Jim Coley and Senator Ken Yager.
“I appreciate the support of the Tennessee General Assembly in the passage of Public Chapter No. 557, which has led us to the creation of a comprehensive digital record of the Tennessee State Capitol’s history,” Secretary of State Tre Hargett said. “That history will be available to people now and in the future – 24 hours a day, seven days a week and free of charge – over the Internet. There are many things about the Capitol’s history that will surprise people. This building doesn’t have its own Trivial Pursuit game, but it could.”
“The mission of the State Library and Archives is to preserve Tennessee’s history for everyone,” State Librarian and Archivist Chuck Sherrill said. “This video draws on some of the vast treasures contained in our archives to tell the story of the Capitol building.”
The original cornerstone of the Capitol building was laid on July 4, 1845. In the 14 years that followed, architect William Strickland – with assistance from Samuel Morgan, Francis Strickland and Harvey Ackroyd – designed and oversaw the building that is still in use today. Although the Capitol has gone through various renovations over nearly 170 years, many of the building’s original characteristics are unchanged. This historical national landmark is one of the nation’s oldest working statehouses still in use.
The documentary and information on the images used in the film are available at www.capitol.tnsos.net. Additionally, the virtual tour, mini-features, and fun stories about the Tennessee State Capitol will be available soon.

Book shedding new light on TN history

From “History Bill” Carey:
Paul Clements spent 11 years researching first-person accounts of the early settlements of Middle Tennessee. He assembled every available account of events such as the journey of the Donelson Party, the Battle of the Bluffs, the Nickajack Expedition and countless other events between 1775 and 1800. He recently published many of these in the book “Chronicles of the Cumberland Settlements.” This amazing 800-page volume sheds new light on the early history of Nashville and proves that many of the stories we have heard only tell part of the story.
Carey’s Q and A session with Clements is HERE.
And Carey has a piece in the City Paper. An excerpt from that:
A native of Nashville who doesn’t even have a degree in history, Clements just moved the understanding of Nashville’s early history forward one very large step. He did this the old-fashioned way — by staring at microfilm for more than a decade in places such as the Metro Nashville Archives and the Tennessee State Library and Archives.
“I’m in awe of what Paul has done,” said John Egerton, Southern historian and the author of Speak Now Against the Day: The Generation Before the Civil Rights Movement in the South. “The very idea that such a thing could happen at this stage is astonishing.
“The only way it could have happened is because of a guy like Paul.”
You see, in the 1840s, a man named Lyman Draper interviewed many of the people who were here when present-day Davidson and Sumner counties consisted of nothing more than a series of forts and homesteads. Draper conducted these interviews intending to write a long book about the history of the American frontier.
Draper never wrote the book, but he wrote transcripts of the interviews. In some cases, the notebooks containing these interviews had never been translated from his mid-19thcentury handwriting — until Clements did it.
Furthermore, about 75 pages of handwritten notes written by someone who interviewed Edward Swanson in the 1820s were discovered in a West Tennessee home in the 1980s. This was a remarkable discovery. Swanson, you see, was one of Middle Tennessee’s earliest settlers; he came to the “French Lick,” as Nashville was once known, before the Donelson Party got here. Swanson’s notebooks were detailed, containing accounts of events such as the Battle of the Bluffs, and descriptions of the fort that used to be in present-day downtown Nashville.

Book Chronicles How Democrats Organized Alexander ‘Coup’

While U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander has devoted a lot of time and effort to burnishing his partisan Republican credentials in preparation for next year’s re-election run, he has also been deftly including a history lesson from his background on the value of bipartisanship.
That came on Jan. 17, 1979, when Alexander was sworn into office as governor of Tennessee three days ahead of the announced inauguration day. Democratic Gov. Ray Blanton was removed from office ahead of schedule and thus blocked from granting further end-of-term pardons and paroles to imprisoned criminals.
The events of that day, those leading to it and the lay of Tennessee’s political landscape in that bygone era are thoroughly chronicled in “Coup,” a book written by Keel Hunt that is being published this summer by Vanderbilt University Press. It is a recommended read for anyone interested in Tennessee history or politics.
Hunt makes it clear that Alexander, then a 30-something lawyer best known for walking across the state in a red-and-black plaid shirt during his gubernatorial campaign, was reluctant to get involved in Blanton’s early ouster. The scandal-ridden Blanton administration had probably contributed substantially to Alexander’s 1978 campaign win.

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State Historian Walter Durham Dies, Age 88

Walter Thomas Durham, Tennessee’s state historian for the past decade and author of 24 books on Tennessee history, died on Friday at the age of 88, reports The Tennessean.
Mr. Durham, a longtime Gallatin businessman and a walking encyclopedia of Tennessee and Sumner County history, was appointed state historian in 2002 by then-Gov. Don Sundquist. He had already served as president of the Tennessee Historical Society, founding president of the Tennessee Heritage Alliance (renamed the Tennessee Preservation Trust) and chairman of the Tennessee Historical Commission.
“An awful lot of history passed with him,” said Kenneth Thomson, president of the Sumner County Historical Society, who knew Mr. Durham his whole life and helped him with one of his final projects. “And it’s a good thing he recorded it.”
Mr. Durham never made much money off his books, often giving them away to organizations that would benefit from them.
His award-winning books spanned a wide range of subjects: the Union Army’s occupation of Nashville during the Civil War, Tennesseans’ roles during westward expansion to California in the 1840s and the period before its statehood when Tennessee was part of the vast Southwest Territory.
…Mr. Durham, born Oct. 7, 1924, is survived by his wife of 64 years, Anna Armstrong Coile Durham, as well as four children, four grandchildren, a sister and a niece.
He attended the University of Wisconsin and Vanderbilt University. After graduation, he served in Africa and Italy with the Air Force during World War II.
He was a partner of Durham Building Supply Co. in Gallatin from 1948 to 1973 and was a founding president of Gallatin Aluminum Products Co.

Emancipation Proclamation on Display at TN State Museum

By Kristin Hall, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The original Emancipation Proclamation, a document that changed the lives of countless African-Americans during the Civil War, is on display in Nashville as the fragile historical document makes its only stop in the Southeast on a 150th anniversary tour.
The exhibit opened Tuesday — fittingly on the anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday — at the Tennessee State Museum and runs through Monday. It’s a rare visit outside the nation’s capital for the original document Lincoln signed in 1863 declaring “forever free” all slaves held in Confederate states rebelling against the Union.
Because lights are harmful to the papers, the document can only be viewed for 72 hours over the course of the six days. After Feb. 18, a replica of the Emancipation Proclamation will be on display until the exhibit ends Sept. 1.
Throngs of school children were among the first to view the exhibit on Tuesday morning. All of the approximately 18,000 reservations for visitors and school groups to visit the exhibit were taken, but more walk-in visitors were being accommodated.

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