Two weeks ago, as Hollis Skinner and others introduced me to key heritage resources in Gibson County, we stopped at the Trenton Rosenwald School. Located where the Rosenwald Fund sop ported a new black school in the 1920s, the current building dates to the 1950s and 1960s.
Here is a category of buildings and a period of our history that need greater attention. Only when the end of Jim Crow segregation neared did Tennessee communities give more than lip service to the legal concept of separate but equal. Local African American communities took the new buildings, embraced them as community centers and continued their fight for civil rights. The clock was not going to be stopped or turned back.
The last photo is Dr Rachel Martin, the assistant director of the MTSU Center for historic Preservation speaking at a community gathering in the school gym,
A week ago a group of African Americans in Gibson County gave me the great honor of sharing the historic Mt Zion Church/School. What a great property. There is a sign stating that deed for the land was transferred in 1855.
When the building was actually constructed will be determined by research but whatever that date may be, the significance of this sacred place is clear.
The Gibson County Courthouse, built in 1901, is one of the state’s most distinctive. The creative use of multi-colored bricks mimics High Victorian style as does the short turrets and high cupola. The architect was W. Chamberlin of Knoxville.
By the turn of the century Jim Crow segregation ruled Tennessee’s public spaces as the theory (never a reality) of separate but equal gave inferior, secondary spaces to local African American citizens in the new building. A late 20th century remodeling obscures original interior designs and spaces but it also allowed the building to speak to and serve all residents. The historic building finally became a point of pride for all of the county’s residents.
Bruce High School has served the African American community of Dyersburg and Dyer county for over 100 years. I say forgotten because it is a forgotten place to most Tennesseans. Located on the proverbial other side of the tracks, blocks behind the old city cemetery, this is not a school landmark that you drive by and admire. No you have to search for it–unless you are among the hundreds of still living alumni. You know exactly where it is, and obviously the community with the active help of the city takes excellent care of what’s left.
The present building dates to 1951, the decade when the state finally started to build modern schools for blacks in hopes of delaying integration for another generation.
The community has built an impressive heritage room, decorated in the school’s distinctive black-red colors.
The centerpiece is the historic gym, scene of regional tournaments, community events, concerts, and NAACP meetings, among many other things. It is a grand secular space for the community.
The story of Bruce is powerful, compelling and needs to be heard loudly across Tennessee.
Marble Springs is a 30+ acre farm that once belonged to Tennessee governor John Sevier. This summer the Friends group at Marble Springs asked me to start working with them on a series of assessments that can identify needs and opportunities for the property’s heritage development.
Two weeks ago with a team consisting of Heritage Area preservation specialist Jessica White, CHP doctoral assistant Ginna Cannon, new grad student Brad eatherly and Ashley Poe of the State Museum who is also starting the MA program at MTSU, we got the first fieldwork underway.
Marble Springs is a jewel of a site: enough land to interpret the early plantation landscape, enough marble deposits to explore that neglected theme, the historic log complex, and important family pieces of furniture.
Keep check this blog as I add more about our discoveries over the fall and winter.