“Woke” before their time, one might write.

But not everyone was on board.

In the pre-pandemic time Tony and I visited an at-the-time new timeline exhibit at the East Tennessee Historical Society. One thing we are learning is that East Tennessee is different from the Middle and West Grand Divisions (geographic regions) of the state in a number of social and cultural demographics, including how East Tennesseans felt about slavery.  East Tennessee was home to one of the first abolitionist movements in the country, around 1814.

On the whole, the percentage of enslaved persons was one-third that of the Middle and West, and the majority were employed as house servants, then considered a luxury, because there were few agricultural operations and thus few plantations. East Tennessee strongly opposed secession, as well, and petitioned Nashville to no avail. In 1861 Confederate troops occupied East Tennessee to prevent secession.

Overall, Tennessee furnished more soldiers for the Confederate Army than any other state besides Virginia, and more soldiers for the Union Army than the rest of the Confederacy combined. After the Civil War, Tennessee adopted a constitutional amendment forbidding human property in 1865. The state ratified the U.S. Constitution’s 14th amendment on July 18, 1866; and was the first state readmitted to the Union on July 24, 1866.

Historians have “credited” the film (1917) with inspiring the reorganization and spread of the Ku Klux Klan.

“The Delaneys were born in Knoxville in the aftermath of slavery and the Civil War. Their education was often informal and sporadic, as they attended one rural school after another while traveling with their circuit-riding preacher father. They grew up amidst racial segregation, witnessed the upheaval of Knoxville’s race riot in 1919, and were aware of the lynching of blacks throughout the South. They were part of the Great Migration, during which thousands of African Americans left the South looking for opportunities. Beauford and Joseph took different paths, yet their paintings reflect the world they experienced, beginning with life in Knoxville.” (credit: ETHS)

Remember the name, Beauford Delaney.

Juneteenth for Tennessee, 4 years before Texas.

JFK would get all the PR a decade later, on the steps of the Michigan Union, our alma mater.

Chipping away at Plessy v. Ferguson.

The first desegregated high school in the South.

Two steps forward, one step back.

Urban Reneal projects decimated the black community. Hundreds of homes and business, and 15 churches were destroyed. Eight of those churches built new structures. Only two of the uprooted businesses were able to move and still operate today. Both are still in East Knoxville, an area that is now going through a more gentle and sensitive renewal.

The timeline continues, of course, past the Jim Crow Era. During the Civil Rights Movement, for example Knoxville, in order to preserve its reputation as a city without racial tension desegregated its lunch counters in only a month, well apace of other cities.

There is much more to learn, and I shall, whenever the Beck Center for African American History and Culture reopens.