Notes on an Exhibition: Madison Beckner

This blog post was authored by Madison Beckner, a student in Professor Eckelmann Berghel’s HIST 3475: Modern Civil Rights Struggle class that curated an exhibit on display in the George Connor Special Collections Reading Room, located in room 439 of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Library in Spring 2019.

The city of Chattanooga is often thought of as a progressive southern city. Its transition into a forward-thinking city is often seen as smooth and easy, however this was not the case. Chattanooga, just like any other city in the South during the Civil Rights era, had its fair share of resistance from the white population. From the race riots in the 1960s to the uphill battle for public school desegregation, Chattanooga has a dark past of its own.

The display “White Opposition to a Changing Chattanooga” presents several forms of white resistance during the 1950s and 1960s. We chose to highlight various tactics and techniques the white population used to deny African American citizens their basic civil rights. The examples range from obvious, violence and intimidation, to more subtle strategies such as discriminatory policy/legislation and exclusion (which could also be described as segregation).

Gibson, Springer. "Board to Receive Written Demand." Chattanooga News-Free Press . February 24, 1960. 2016.004.004.j. Courtesy of the Chattanooga Public Library and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Special Collections.

Gibson, Springer. “Board to Receive Written Demand.” Chattanooga News-Free Press .
February 24, 1960. 2016.004.004.j. Courtesy of the Chattanooga Public Library and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Special Collections.

The newspaper article presented is quite unique. Not only does it serve as undeniable evidence of Chattanooga’s prejudiced history, but it also shows the resilience that Chattanooga African Americans displayed throughout this era. The article details NAACP President, James Mapp’s demand for the immediate integration of Chattanooga public schools. The school board, city council, and other local officials were deliberately attempting to slow down the integration process and stall for as long as possible. After empty promises and fruitless conversation, Mapp decided to increase the pressure on the lagging administration.

The article details the length African American parents will take to ensure their children are enrolled in previously segregated, all-white schools. The parents stated that they are willing to take their demand as far as federal courts, only emphasizing the Chattanooga education systems almost outright denial to accept integration. The seventh paragraph of the article states, “Threats of bombing, lynching, and being run out of town were received by parents on Tuesday.” The article reveals that the local police had promised protection to the group; however, all of the threats made were concerning physically, bodily harm. This only Further illustrates the disconnect between local police and African American citizens to the forefront.

Although the majority of the article details the threats of violence directed toward African American citizens, it ends on a much more positive note. Reverend H. H. Kirnon comments on many African American parents being “quite ready to join us in the movement”, once again highlighting the strength of Chattanooga’s African American citizens when confronted with adversity.


Notes on an Exhibition: Britany Green

This blog post was authored by Britany Green, a student in Professor Eckelmann Berghel’s HIST 3475: Modern Civil Rights Struggle class that curated an exhibit on display in the George Connor Special Collections Reading Room, located in room 439 of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Library in Spring 2019.

Before researching the history of Black Power movement in Chattanooga, I knew very little about the topic as a whole. I educated myself on the aims of the national Black Power movement, then I turned to Special Collections at UTC to see how members of the local community responded to the idea. With limited sources, the task seemed daunting at first; however, the materials I analyzed in the archives contained great depth and a richness that conveyed exactly what the Black American community of Chattanooga wanted.

After my other group members researched separately, we came together to decide on the theme and structure of the exhibit. We all agreed on the fact that the Black Power movement in Chattanooga focused on certain, critical aspects that we must feature on the display panel such as local groups’ community survival programs. We decided to format our project based on a list of eight demands published in a 1970 edition of a local Chattanooga newspaper, the Black United Front. The eight points clearly defined what the Black community needed to do in order to combat the systemic racism they suffered from daily.

Black united front, vol.1, no. 17, page 5. Courtesy of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Special Collections.

Black united front, vol.1, no. 17, page 5. Courtesy of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Special Collections.

Popular conceptions often connect the Black Power movement with violent and negative images. However, the movement mainly focused on the advancement and equal opportunity for Black Americans. Black Power meant that Black people took matters into their own hands, and they demanded equal access to housing, jobs, and education. The pieces we chose to include in our exhibit reflected these exact principles. During my individual research, I encountered a multitude of pieces that embodied the spirit and goals of the movement. I developed two themes for the exhibit on the struggles for better education and political representation, but I encountered many other important sources that did not get incorporated into the final exhibit.

In an article titled “Political Philosophy” from a 1969 edition of local newspaper, the Black Fist, an anonymous author encouraged the readers to vote and make their voices heard. “A ballot is like a bullet,” claimed the author; he urged Black Americans to involve themselves in politics in order to make change. The author asserted that organizations like the NAACP and SNCC had been spreading Black Power ideology, and it meant that the Black community would no longer remain silent.

Black fist, vol.1, no. 8, page 2. Courtesy of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Special Collections.

Black fist, vol.1, no. 8, page 2. Courtesy of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Special Collections.

Black fist, vol.1, no. 8, page 5. Courtesy of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Special Collections.

Black fist, vol.1, no. 8, page 5. Courtesy of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Special Collections.

Other pieces in local Black Power newspapers featured more personal viewpoints on the movement. A Black United Front paper from 1970 contained a poem written by Molapa Mphadi titled “My Thought.” This poem discussed the oppression of Black Americans throughout history, but most importantly, it reclaimed of African American cultural roots. The Black Power movement stressed the idea of taking back one’s own culture and not allowing the past to define the Black American experience. Mphadi wanted readers to focus on celebrating one’s culture rather than allowing white America to silence this rich heritage, as Americans have done in the past. The author created this piece as a rallying cry for Black Americans, as she wanted them to know that their voices mattered in shaping the future of American society.

Black united front, vol.1, no. 17, page 2. Courtesy of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Special Collections.

Black united front, vol.1, no. 17, page 2. Courtesy of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Special Collections.

I chose to mention these two pieces here because they illustrate that the Black Power movement in Chattanooga spoke to a larger, national movement. The movement in Chattanooga not only wanted the Black community to feel unified on a local level, but also connect to national issues. It focused on racial pride in the Black identity and the importance of realizing that Black Americans experience the similar forms of oppression. Black Power meant that Black people recognized their own power to create change and demand that they be granted the equal rights that they had been denied for too long.


Notes on an Exhibition: Chris Bishop

This blog post was authored by Chris Bishop, a student in Professor Eckelmann Berghel’s HIST 3475: Modern Civil Rights Struggle class that curated an exhibit on display in the George Connor Special Collections Reading Room, located in room 439 of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Library in Spring 2019.

The landmark case of Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka is one of the most significant Supreme Court rulings of the modern civil rights era. This 1954 ruling stated that state-sanctioned segregation of public schools was unconstitutional because it violated the fourteenth amendment. The ground-breaking decision affected the entire nation, especially cities in the South, including Chattanooga. Many historical documents illustrate the impact the case had on the city and county’s schools. One such piece is a master’s dissertation titled A Survey of Opinion of White High School Sophomores in the Hamilton Co. (Tennessee) School System on Racial Integration of the Schools, researched and written in 1955 by Myra Bryant Millsaps, a student at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga. The work begins with a detailed description of the Supreme Court’s ruling and how it began the process of integrating public schools. There is also a brief overview of the economic state of Hamilton Co. public schools in 1955. Millsaps highlights the various opinions of white high school sophomores on the racial integration of schools. These opinions represent the uncertainty and ambivalence many students felt after learning that integration would eventually come to their schools. For example, one student maintained, “I wouldn’t mind going to school with Negroes but I wouldn’t want to date them.” Another student noted, “I think that most fathers and mothers would object to having their children go to school with a Negro.” Students also explained their views through religious rhetoric, such as this student: “When God made the first white man, He wanted him to be white or He would have put him some other color. If He aimed for us to be put together with the Negroes, He would have made us the same color, therefore, I don’t want any Negro around me in any way.” However, some students also responded more positively: “We fought the Germans and Japanese in the last war and they can come to our schools. Why shouldn’t the Negro be able to come, when he fought for America?” Another progressively minded student noted, “I firmly believe there is no one person on the face of the earth any better than another because of his color. God made the Negro, as he did the white, from dust…There is no room in a Christian world for racial prejudice and discrimination of any kind.” The significance and importance of this document in the overall narrative of how this area was impacted by school integration cannot be overstated because it gives us insight into how those affected most, the students, really felt.

Another significant document addressing the integration of schools in Hamilton County is a booklet entitled Federally Supported Educational Programs. Of particular importance is the section on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – Public Law 88-352 – Title IV, Inservice Preparation of Teachers for the Desegregation of Selected School Faculties Through the Implementation of Team Teaching. School integration was uncharted territory requiring training to prepare the personnel involved. The purpose of the program focused on “grants to school boards to pay, in whole or in part, the cost of giving teachers, and other school personnel, inservice training in dealing with problems incident to desegregation; and employing specialists to advise in these problems.” The cost of the program at the time amounted to $177,256 and was intended to cover grades 1 through 12. The project trained “a total of 44 teachers in 16 selected schools … assigned across racial lines.” The inservice workshops targeted participating principals and teachers, and project directors. A conference of participating teachers, principals, and teachers held at Brainerd High School on February 23, 1967, was regarded a success of faculty desegregation. This particular piece illustrates that many American schools, especially those in the South, Chattanooga and Hamilton County, were slow to fully integrate student bodies.


Notes on an Exhibition: Alondra M. Gomez

This blog post was authored by Alondra M. Gomez, a student in Professor Eckelmann Berghel’s HIST 3475: Modern Civil Rights Struggle class that curated an exhibit on display in the George Connor Special Collections Reading Room, located in room 439 of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Library in Spring 2019.

While researching the topic of Black Power in America during the 1960s and 1970s, I was eager to discover new aspects of the history of this movement in Chattanooga. Popular accounts continue to characterize Black Power as a militant confrontation from the African American community. My research revealed that the local Black Power movement was much more than a “militant front.” Black Power arose from the need of African Americans to instill a sense of racial pride and dignity. Local black power advocates demanded the end of the systematic racism and insisten on equal access to employment opportunities, income, an education that celebrated black history, adequate housing conditions, more power and representation in politics, safety of their communities of color. Upon learning about the Black Power movement through a lens of social justice rather than rebellion, I also became interested in the aftermath of the movement. What effects did Black Power have on young African Americans and white Americans?

During my research, I came across an article from the Echo dated back to February of 1981. Although the publication of this article was not within the timeframe of the Black Power movement, I chose to take it under consideration for my group’s exhibit;  the title of the piece “BAW Gives a Sense of Dignity” raised my interest. In the article, UTC students were asked to give their opinions on Black Awareness Week. According to a poll conducted at the university on the matter, African American students voiced a sense of pride and self-importance during Black Awareness Week. The majority of white students expressed dissatisfaction. Based on the article, they felt it unnecessary for black students to be given a special week of celebration. In the Echo, the students’ responses to Black Awareness Week ranged from support for black students’ celebration of culture, heritage, and achievements, to an indifference or sense of inequality that white students do not have the same opportunity to celebrate white culture.

University echo, vol. LXXX, no. 22, Page 4

University echo, vol. LXXX, no. 22, Page 4. Courtesy of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Special Collections.

The interviewed African American students reflected upon the leadership of those who came before them. It highlighted African Americans’ dignity and contributions and gave them a sense of belonging. It served as a reminder that their existence was and continues to be valued. Like the Black Power movement, Black Awareness Week empowered these students and gave them a sense of pride.

References

Draper, Dean. “BAW Gives a Sense of Dignity,” University Echo 80, no. 22 (1981): 1-20. https://digital-collections.library.utc.edu/digital/collection/p16877coll9/id/9787/rec/1.


Notes on an Exhibition: Katy Sommerfeld

This blog post was authored by Katy Sommerfeld, a student in Professor Eckelmann Berghel’s HIST 3475: Modern Civil Rights Struggle class that curated an exhibit on display in the George Connor Special Collections Reading Room, located in room 439 of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Library in Spring 2019.

Local Government Reactions to Howard Students’ Civil Rights Activism

The history of youth civil rights activism in Chattanooga is inspiring. The Howard high school students’ demonstrations at downtown restaurants and movie theaters represent the majority of the activism that occurred in the area during the 1960s. These brave students took the movement into their own hands and organized sit-ins, look-ins, and marches that advocated for their rights as young Americans.

Map that locates each of Chattanooga's 45 public schools as of the 1968-1969 school year. The key to the map also lists each school's address, enrollment, and number of teachers. Courtesy of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Special Collections.

Map that locates each of Chattanooga’s 45 public schools as of the 1968-1969 school year. The key to the map also lists each school’s address, enrollment, and number of teachers. Courtesy of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Special Collections.

The student demonstrations invoked harsh reactions from pro-segregationist locals. A near race riot broke out downtown after a particularly large sit-in, and violence resulted from white youths in the area. The local police arrested twelve participants, and the names of those arrested were recorded in the local newspaper.

A newspaper clipping from the Chattanooga Times recording a court order that limited sit-in participants to 6. Courtesy of the Chattanooga Public Library and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Special Collections.

A newspaper clipping from the
Chattanooga Times recording a court
order that limited sit-in participants
to 6. Courtesy of the Chattanooga Public Library and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Special Collections.

The increased tension of race relations and the heightened media coverage pressured the local government to respond to the demonstrations occurring downtown. In March of 1960, after some students began participating in “look-ins” at movie theaters, they were fined $50 each at court. In May of 1960, a local judge passed a court order that limited sit-in demonstration participation to six individuals only.  This limitation prevented future sit-ins from having the same impact. Despite this set back, sit-ins continued, and eventually some businesses downtown opened their doors to African American patrons.

The Howard school students were pioneers of the civil rights movement in Chattanooga. They spearheaded the protests and represented some of the movement’s youngest leaders. Their participation in local activism provoked government retaliation and white resistance, but their efforts prevailed, and some local businesses answered their calls for desegregation. Their activism highlights an important moment in local history and is worthy of public commemoration.

References

Chattanooga Public Schools. Chattanooga City Schools Map, 1968. Scale not given. In: University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Special Collections. Chattanooga, TN.

“Near Race Riot of 500 Teen-Agers Leaves 12 Arrests, Several Injured, 1 in Hospital”. The Chattanooga Times. February 25, 1960.

“6 of 12 Teen-Age Negroes Nabbed at ‘Look-ins’ Fined Maximum $50 for Disorderly Conduct.” The Chattanooga Times. March 11, 1961.

“Court Order Alters Sit-In: Juvenile Judge Puts Limit of 6 on Groups”. The Chattanooga Times. May 18, 1960.

“Negroes Get Service at City Places: 20 Accommodated at 7 Lunch Counters Without Trouble.”  The Chattanooga Times.August 6, 1960.


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