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Remembering Knoxville's Pioneering Black Baseball Players

Rev. Renee Kesler shares information about the Negro League in baseball and Knoxville's team called the Knoxville Giants. The Giants ballplayers of the 1920s and '30s were memorable. With a new multi-use stadium coming to "The Bottom," history lovers say it's a great opportunity to share their stories and the experiences of other Knoxville African-Americans.

Street Named for Elston Turner, Sr.

Friends, family and fans welcomed and celebrated Knoxville native, legendary Austin-East Roadrunner, NBA player and beloved coach Elston Turner at a joyful reception on Monday, February 21, 2022. A street in the new Austin Homes neighborhood will be named for him and officially revealed in May.
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Beck Cultural Exchange Center
Learn about the significance of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center from Rev. Renee Kesler.

2022 MLK Commemorative Commission Leadership Awards Luncheon

Knoxville's Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Commission celebrated their 40th anniversary at the annual MLK Leadership Awards Luncheon on January 13, 2022. Several City staff members attended, as well as local community and business leaders. The event was thought-provoking, hopeful and celebratory -- especially when our very own Director of Community Empowerment Charles Lomax Jr. received the Award for Diversity Champion. Author Nona Jones gave the keynote presentation. See videos below.

Listen to Rev. Renee Kesler, Beck Cultural Exchange Center, Discuss the MLK Legacy

Knoxville Poet Nikki Giovanni Keynote Speaker for Virtual King Day with Northwest African American Museum

The Northwest African American Museum in Seattle, WA hosted a hybrid King Day 2022 on January 17, 2022, with a virtual afternoon program called "The Poetics of Infinite Hope," featuring Knoxville poet Nikki Giovanni as the keynote speaker. More about the program available at naamnw.org Watch the video below.

History of Knoxville Urban Renewal with the Willow St. Project (The Bottom)

Video from the Beck Cultural Center describing Urban Renewal in Knoxville. The video focuses on the Willow Street Project (The Bottom) and the site of the newly proposed stadium for the Smokies baseball team.

Poetry Reading by Nikki Giovanni for Black History Month

Poet and university distinguished professor at Virginia Tech Nikki Giovanni delivers a poetry reading for the New York Times.

City Council Passes Resolution Asking to Exonerate Maurice Franklin Mays

Maurice Mays was executed in 1922 at the Nashville State Penitentiary for killing a white woman in Knoxville, however, experts and court documents show there was no evidence that he had committed the crime. 

101 years later, Knoxville City Council recognized that injustice by unanimously passing a resolution asking Governor Bill Lee to exonerate Mays.

The resolution passed unanimously and all Council members wanted their names as a co-sponsor of the resolution.
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Knoxville Museum of Art Exhibit Salutes Delaney's Pioneering Work

Knoxville native Beauford Delaney is revered internationally for his work as a 20th century artist. He is best known for his modernist style of painting, which often featured scenes of New York streets and jazz clubs and well-known African-American figures. He has often been referred to as one of the most important African-American artists of the mid-20th century. Yet despite his immense artistic contributions and recognition of his work in Paris, Delaney is often underappreciated in his hometown.
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Poet Nikki Giovanni Unveils Historic Marker

 A big crowd warmly greeted acclaimed poet Nikki Giovanni back home to Knoxville on May 23, 2019.

The Knoxville-born writer, educator and activist read poetry and told stories to those who came Thursday to the Cal Johnson Recreation Center, 507 Hall of Fame Drive, for the unveiling of a historic marker honoring Giovanni and reminding passersby that near here once stood her grandparents' home.

"Nikki Giovanni is our native daughter, and we’re proud of her powerful writing voice and all she’s accomplished as a visionary poet, activist and educator," Mayor Madeline Rogero said. "She represents the best of Knoxville."
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Listen to Bob Booker Talk About Live Music at Chilhowee Park

Historian Robert J. "Bob" Booker spoke to City of Knoxville communications staff about seeing live music at the Jacob Building at Chilhowee Park, when audiences were racially segregated.

Listen to Bob Booker Talk About Seeing Movies in Segregated Knoxville

Historian Robert J. "Bob" Booker spoke to City of Knoxville communications staff about going to the Bijou Theatre as a boy to see a movie with his white friends and using different entrances.


KAT's 1st African-American Female Driver Had Something to Prove

Geraldetta Dozier was walking home one day when she happened to look up as a bus topped the hill on Harriet Tubman Street. To her surprise, a woman was driving. "I said, 'Wow,' and I walked right over to the bus offices, which at that time were at Jessamine Street and Fifth Avenue," Dozier said. "I was a student, living in the projects, a single mother raising my baby. I needed to make some money. "I thought: If she can do it, so can I."

Dozier, now 68, made good on her impulsive career choice. She earned her chauffeur's license (now, a Commercial Driver's License), and in May 1976 was hired as the City's first female African-American bus operator in Knoxville.

Dozier came on board and drove for Knoxville Area Transit during a pivotal time in the transit service's history. Just a decade earlier, the City of Knoxville had gotten itself into the transit business. 
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Knoxville Police Department Integrated Since 1882

After the Civil War, the Knoxville Police Department made history. It hired the City's first African-American police officer in 1882 - and continued to recruit and hire black officers, even at a time when it was virtually unheard of to have minority representation in the uniformed ranks.

Moses Smith was the first African-American police officer in Knoxville, says Civil Rights pioneer and historian Robert J. Booker. Smith served on the Knoxville police force for several years before being appointed as a federal marshal. Additionally, Smith served on the City's Board of Aldermen in 1874 and again in 1878.

How rare was Smith's employment as a black police officer in 1882? It was extremely unusual. After the Reconstruction era ended, Knoxville was one of just five cities in the South with African-American police officers in its department, according to Booker. The four other cities were located in Texas. 

The Police Department hired its second full-time African-American police officer, James Mason, in 1884. 
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First African-American Volunteer Fire Department Formed in 1868

In 1854, the first volunteer fire department in Knoxville formed with 100 volunteers.

Fourteen years later, in 1868, William F. Yardley and William Luttrell formed a separate African-American volunteer fire department - and Yardley served as its first fire chief.

However, while African-Americans have been protecting lives and property from fires in Knoxville for 149 years, they weren't paid and professionally trained by the City until the 1950s. And the City maintained segregated fire halls for another decade. “In some ways, Knoxville was progressive, and in many other ways, we lagged behind,” says Fire Chief Stan Sharp, who studies KFD's history and cherishes its rare historic photos.

Sharp, who places a high priority on diversity, bemoans the City's slowness in hiring African-American firefighters and integrating its fire halls. "The Fire Department organized in 1885 as a paid department, but it remained segregated for the next 80 or so years," Sharp says.
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One of City's 1st African-American Firefighters Rose Through the Ranks

As a young man, Luther Bradley never envisioned how his life and career would unfold. Then in 1952, an opportunity at the Knoxville Fire Department presented itself. Mayor George Dempster decided to hire African-American firefighters for the first time. Bradley and 10 other African-American men were hired and trained for Fire Department duties. The firefighters, housed at the Engine Company No. 4 fire station in East Knoxville, started battling fires and protecting families on Aug. 6, 1952, after only about a month of training. “I never, in my early years, dreamed of becoming a fireman,” says Bradley, who made firefighting his career. He served as captain and later was assigned as the fire inspector for the Fire Prevention Bureau. Seven years after his promotion to fire inspector, he became assistant chief in charge of the bureau. Then in 1980, Luther Bradley was promoted to Deputy Chief and Fire Marshal. He was born on Aug. 2, 1927, in Knoxville to Roy Bradley and Alma Hardin Bradley. Luther Bradley married Harriet E. Lee in 1948, and they have five children together.
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African-American Political Engagement in Knoxville Dates Back to Mid-1800s

Knoxville City Councilman Daniel Brown has always embraced service - as a U.S. Army soldier in Vietnam in 1970, as a 22-year public servant with the U.S. Postal Service, and as an East Knoxville community leader. But on Jan. 10, 2011, he made Knoxville history. This was the day that Daniel Brown became Knoxville’s first African-American mayor. 

But while Brown was Knoxville's first African-American mayor, the City's black citizens have long been politically engaged. The first African-American aldermen were elected shortly after the Civil War, and in the early 20th century, Knoxville had a "Bronze Mayor," who was selected by votes cast through an African-American newspaper. 

Consider this context: In 1860, about one in four Tennesseans were living in slavery. Less than 3 percent of the 276,000 blacks in Tennessee were free. So how did African-Americans gain a foothold in politics in that era?
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Cal Johnson, Knoxville’s First African-American Millionaire

A former Knoxville slave made rags-to-riches history in the early 1900s, becoming Knoxville’s first African-American millionaire.

Caldonia “Cal” Fackler Johnson was born a slave on Oct. 14, 1844, in Knoxville’s Farragut Hotel. Both of Cal Johnson’s parents were born slaves, belonging to the McClung family at Campbell Station.

Robert J. Booker, an African-American historian and founder of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center, has researched and published articles on Cal Johnson’s life. Booker’s research indicates that Johnson’s mother, Harriet McClung Johnson, learned to read and write, as evidenced by the handwritten items in her Bible. She owned and operated a “hotel / restaurant / grocery” store on Willow Street in Knoxville. 
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Film Pays Tribute to Civil War Solders Interred in Odd Fellows Cemetery

Be sure and view this video, "The Cemetery of Life," by local filmmaker Siam J. Manuels with the Knoxville Re-Animation Coalition and others.The documentary tells the story of the Odd Fellows Cemetery in East Knoxville, the final resting place for 30 Civil War veterans who'd served in the 1st U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery unit. The African-American soldiers are hailed as "the protectors of Knoxville." But many of their graves lack identification, and preservationists who aim to honor the families and veterans interred in Odd Fellows Cemetery have to both pick up litter and beat back invasive vegetation.

The film applauds members of the coalition, City of Knoxville crews and the University of Tennessee researchers for their preservation efforts, but more work is needed to fully restore dignity and honor to Odd Fellows.  
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