Author Archives: carrollvanwest

Pleasant Garden Cemetery in Chattanooga: A forgotten landmark

Too many African American cemeteries are abandoned and forgotten. For over 50 years the Pleasant Garden Cemetery in Chattanooga has suffered that fate.

Established in 1890 as the city’s segregated cemetery for African Americans, the cemetery remains a powerful statement of how Jim Crow laws marginalized African American community institutes much as possible.

Yet the cemetery also shows African American pride and identity in important ways– the rural cemetery movement design of the place, the many evocative gravestones, and the many simply marked family plots. The time is now for this important place to be restored and its story told.

It is the least that should be done when here rests Ed Johnson, the victim of a 1906 lynching on the Walnut Street Bridge.

Telling the Whole Story in Franklin

The McLemore House, dating c. 1880,  in the Historic African American neighborhood of Hard Bargain, tells how freed African Americans helped to build a new Franklin after the Civil War.

New exhibits prepared with the support of the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area tell Harvey’s amazing journey from slavery to freedom along with the impact his family had on Franklin for generations.

The McLemore House is a crucial addition to Franklin’s heritage tourism as it addresses people and stories too long ignored.

Allen-White High School and a community’s revival 

Dating to 1919 the Allen-White School in Whiteville was the first brick Rosenwald school in Tennessee plus local African Americans in Hardeman County raised the most money for the school than any other similar community in the state during the Rosenwald school building campaign.

In 2012 vandals burned the school just as its restoration was not underway. This act of hatred did not stop the community. Last week at the historic ElCanaan Baptist Church local leaders and members of the Tennessee General Assembly met to celebrate the beginning of a new campaign to restore the school as a community cultural center, thus restoring this rural community too.

Chattanooga’s Lincoln Park

Last month I had the privilege of visiting one of Chattanooga’s historic African American neighborhoods, Lincoln Park. Nestled between the historic Norfolk and Western rail yards and Erlanger Hospital and the university of Tennessee, Chattanooga, the neighbors has a range of late 19th to mid-20th century homes.


 As we work with the neighborhood on its history, we will undoubtedly learn more about the homes and residents.

   The centerpiece is Lincoln Park built as a segregated-black public park in 1918. Here is where Negro League games were played well into the mid-20th century.

 This place is important to Chattanooga’s history as well as the history of pro sports in Tennessee. I can’t wait to learn more.

Tennessee’s Northeast Corner: Mountain City


Mountain City, the seat of Johnson County, is located in the northeast corner of Tennessee. Its history dates well into the nineteenth century but much of what you encounter there today dates from the 20th century, representing a blend of modernism, like the late 1950s Johnson County Courthouse above, and various revival styles, such as the Gothic Revival church below.
When I visited in June 2014 it had been years since visiting Mountain City. One welcome addition was a new community welcome center/history museum, which serves as a gateway to the county’s significant stories.
Another pleasant surprise was the continued survival of the National Youth Administration-constructed industrial shop at the old high school (which has since become an annex for government offices, an excellent adaptive reuse.
The mid-nineteenth century landmark R.R. Butler House remained in excellent condition as well–no better sign of the town’s pretensions and hopes for the post Civil War era in Tennessee history.

Tennessee Cherokees and Indian Territory, #2

Tahlequah is the Capitol of the Cherokee Nation and it contains many tributes, such as monuments at the outstanding Cherokee Heritage Center and the town square about Chief John Ross, who lived in the Chattanooga area before Removal.


The Ross Cemetery, where the newly established John Ross Museum is also located, is a beautiful and somber spot. It is where John Ross is buried along with his brother Lewis, who lived at present-day Charleston TN before Removal.



Tennessee Cherokees and Indian Territory

This week my colleague Amy Kostine and I are working to finish the boots-on-the-ground survey of the Trail of Tears, focusing on routes in Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma.  Once acknowledged as Indian Territory, Oklahoma today has a very interesting state historic site focused on Sequoyah–the Sequoyah Cabin, where he lived from the late 1820s through the 1830s, when thousands of Cherokees began to arrive in Indian Territory from the Trail of Tears in 1838 and 1839.Image.

The small square cabin is encased in a very 1930s looking stone veneer memorial building, designed by Willard Stone and executed by the Works Progress Administration in 1936.  Indeed, the entire park is a WPA wonderland, with a stone wall lining the boundaries, a stone water tank, stone restrooms, and a log visitor center, which the WPA crew made from a second cabin that had been attached to the Sequoyah Cabin in the mid-nineteenth century.



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Another famous Tennessee Cherokee that I encountered today was at the grave of Talahina, the Cherokee wife of Sam Houston, at the Fort Gibson National Cemetery in Oklahoma.  She is buried in a circle of honor around the flagpoles in this historic and very moving cemetery.