The Town of Farragut is helping commemorate Black History Month by hosting renowned Knoxville historian, author and speaker Robert “Bob” Booker, who will discuss a unique chapter on Civil Rights beginning at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 23, in Town Hall.
The event is sponsored by the Farragut Museum Committee and will kick off with a reception and museum tours at 1 p.m.
“The Farragut Museum is excited to welcome back Mr. Robert Booker as our speaker this year,” said Julia Barham, Town Historic Resources coordinator. “Mr. Booker spoke previously at the museum, in 2014, and everyone in attendance enjoyed the program. We are looking forward to another great lecture at this year’s event.”
This will be Booker’s fourth time speaking in Farragut, he said.
“I always enjoy it,” he said.
Booker, 84, is a Knoxville native, and was born and raised in the “Bottom” area of East Knoxville before graduating from Austin-East High School in 1953.
He served in the U.S. Army for three years — and it was the taste of freedom he experienced while stationed in Europe that encouraged Booker to work with the Civil Rights movement when he returned home.
“For three years, I was free,” he said in a telephone interview. “I was free to stay in any hotel I wanted to, free to eat in any restaurant I wanted to, then I came home to see that nothing here had changed.”
He worked to change that, organizing sit-ins to advance desegregation while attending Knoxville College on the G.I. Bill, then he was elected Knoxville’s first black state representative in 1966.
Additionally, Booker worked in the 1970s as then-Mayor Kyle Testerman’s administrative assistant and also served as executive director of the Beck Cultural Exchange for 18 years during his working career, but history has long been his passion.
“I have always been curious about anything, and everything,” he said. “The more I learn, the more questions I have.”
Booker relies on the extensive newspaper archives at the McClung Museum to conduct research on area history, and said he has worked his way up from papers available from 1791 up through the late 1920s, providing the basis for a variety of projects, books, writings and scrapbooks.
He said his historic investigations have led him to know and discover “a lot of Knoxville’s general history not just black history or white history.”
Booker is also quite a prolific writer, authoring Knoxville’s black history, along with hundreds of newspaper articles and columns.
His books have included: “Two Hundred Years of Black Culture in Knoxville, Tennessee 1791-1991,” “There was Light!; The 120 Year History of Knoxville College,” “From the Bottom Up,” “The Heat of a Red Summer” and “An Encyclopedia: The Experiences of Black People in Knoxville, Tennessee 1844-1974.”