Thursday, October 4, 2007

Part Five: And Then The Earth Stood Still.. The Day After Eastman Blew Up

The presses were really wound up the day after Tennessee Eastman's Aniline Plant blew up.


As well, they should be. Up until that time, the Eastman Explosion was the worst disaster caused by Man in terms of lives lost (15 final total), workers injured (at least 60, and many more with cuts and bruises) and property damage (both on-site and off-site), in the history of the state.

The Kingsport News was the area's morning newspaper, and the Kingsport Times was the afternoon/evening paper. They merged in 1980 to form the Kingsport Times-News. Up until then, they were bitter competitors, each determined to cover every angle of the explosion story, and often having the same pictures.

As you'll note, back in 1960, there was practically no general coverage of Kingsport's African-American community; hence, in the articles, there was no mention of the physical damage to the Riverview neighborhood in the aftermath of the Eastman Explosion. There were also not many published eyewitness accounts of what blacks experienced, even though they were the closest to the aniline plant. The only mention found was in one article, where it was written "at the Medical Center, an elderly Negro woman questioned a plant employee as to the safety of her husband. When told the man was safe, the woman seemed near collapse and hysteria."

In another article titled "City Cleans Up After Tragedy," it was noted that windows were knocked out in downtown Kingsport (although Riverview was between the explosion site and downtown), on Garden Drive and Greenfield Avenue (both north of the explosion), and Kenwood Road, Oakwood Drive and Konnarock Road (all northeast of the explosion site).

There is no mention of Riverview in any day-after articles, nor in any subsequent stories on the explosion, even though its citizens were equally as devastated as other Kingsport citizens.

Kingsport's Black Community was devastated by the explosion.. being the closest off-site to it, our African-American lives were changed forever. It is unfortunate that the prevailing social winds at the time 47 years ago, did not include pictures from the one neighborhood that was the hardest hit, and interviews from eyewitnesses whom, as you've noted in previous articles on this website, would have provided a meaningful and soulful perspective of what happened that fateful day.

In a way, it's good that we can remember that time. As philosopher George Santayana once said, "Those who do not study and learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.”

FORTUNATELY, with the Grace of God, we have come a long way towards bridging our social gaps, but UNFORTUNATELY.. there are many MORE miles to go.

---Calvin Sneed