Town’s Black History Month guests, attendees reflect
An overflow crowd attended Sunday’s Black History Month event in Farragut Town Hall, which featured a discussion by noted Knoxville historian Robert “Bob” Booker and historical displays created by area residents.
Loretta Bradley, Vanessa Cannon, Donna Davis and Sandra Skeen comprised the Concord Community Black History Subcommittee, which compiled family and community pictures and news clippings that hung in the Town Hall rotunda for the celebration.
They also filled the second-floor display cases with artifacts, Cannon said.
“It is really important we are able to share what was before and honoring the families that were here, early on,” she added. “It helps us remember where we were, and where we are now.”
Former Concord resident Barbara Sadler was among the guests, and was keenly interested in the display that discussed the former Concord Elementary School, a segregated school, where she had attended as a child.
“I certainly remember,” she said. “I went there in 1948, and I lived on Kingston Pike.”
Two area residents, Hughie Moulden and Helen Trent, were interviewed and recorded, with their oral histories being shared at the Museum Sunday, as well as during open museum hours.
Members of Concord AME Zion Church on Loop Road and Bentley Street Church sang at the beginning of the program, which so filled the Board room, a local Brownie Troop sat on the floor because all chairs were occupied.
Booker, 84, was introduced by fellow Austin High School graduate Loretta Bradley, who smilingly described his many accomplishments, including his Army service and his graduation from Knoxville High School, where he majored in engineering and French.
She added Booker also was Knoxville’s first black elected state representative, was executive director of Beck Cultural Exchange Center and is a prolific author.
“He is also an excellent vocalist and also an excellent dancer, who taught me how to do the ‘cha, cha, cha,’” Bradley said.
Booker smiled as he took Bradley’s hand, then began a somber discussion about civil rights in Knoxville, for which he marched and demonstrated as a Knoxville College student. Planning Commissioner.
“This is my fourth time here, always an honor and a pleasure to be here,” he said.
The civil rights movement started 100 years before the Civil Right Law was adoped in 1964.;
“When slaves were freed in 1863, we could go to hotels or the theater,” Booker said. “We were out of shackles, so now we could do those things. But, the state of Tennessee said, ‘oh, not quite, so in 1866 and 1867, a group of black men went to Nashville, and wanted to talk about getting better educations, better jobs and better wages.
“The legislature did pass a law Black people had the right to vote, but wouldn’t let them hold office. So they prevailed on the U.S. government, to pass a civil rights bill,” he added. “It was passed as a federal civil rights law, but the state of Tennessee again said ‘no, you are moving too fast,’ and in 1875, passed a law that nullified the U.S. government law. They did it by not mentioning black people at all.
“It simply gave proprietors the right to refuse service to anyone. That’s what it was all about.”
Booker also shared a slideshow of newspaper articles, depicting community leaders in the 1930s, ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s, as they worked to change those laws, by demonstrating, attempting to desegregate the University of Tennessee, and sitting at lunch counters where they were prohibited to be.
He even showed one slide from a time he had been arrested because he tried to buy a movie ticket at the Tennessee Theater along Gay Street, which was prohibited at the time
Booker closed with a question and answer session, where he was asked, “Have things had gone backward?”
“I think we have found progress in some ways, but gone backwards in others,” Booker said. “Black schools have gone backwards.
“Under segregation, we had great teachers. … I look, for example, at our police department,” he added. “We have never had a black chief of police, but we were one of five cities in the south that had a black police officer following reconstruction.
“I just wonder what happened to us somewhere along the way.”