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Sunday, August 31, 2008

New Orleans: "It's A Nice Place To Visit, But I Wouldn't Want To Live There"

---Lyrics by Johnny Cash


"It brings back really bad memories, Calvin."

Those strained words from Kingsport resident and Douglass High School Alumni Association president Douglass Releford, as he watches Hurricane Gustav batter the Gulf Coast and the same time, relives memories of Hurricane Katrina, the storm that plunged New Orleans under water three years ago.

He has personal experience of living through a hurricane.

Doug, his wife Vivian, sister Tina and sister-in-law Carolyn Dulaney were in New Orleans watching, as their fun-filled vacation to the Big Easy 3 years ago, turned into America's nightmare.

"My heart really goes out to the people of New Orleans," he says, "to have to go through another hurricane aftermath, this time Gustav. I feel so sorry for them."

"We survived Hurricane Katrina itself," Doug remembers. "The rain and high winds were nothing, compared to what we experienced afterwards."

"On Saturday before the storm hit on Monday, we had asked the police and emergency people around our hotel before the hurricane hit, if we needed to leave," he says. "They said no. Sunday morning the day before the storm hit, we asked them again, do we need to get out of here, and again they said no, that the storm was going to pass away from them. Then on Monday morning after the storm's eye went up through Biloxi, we got winds from the outer bands of the hurricane, and one by one, the levees broke. We heard of water rushing through neighborhoods headed towards downtown, and all of of sudden, the authorities told us we had to leave. We said 'where are we supposed to go?' and a policeman said for us to go to the Convention Center. We walked over on our own. Once there, a policeman came in, took off his uniform and changed into a jogging suit. He said his police radio was dead, and he didn't know what to do."

"And then, the floodwaters came."


Doug and his family spent the next 4 harrowing days in the Convention Center, along with at least 3,000 evacuees with no place to go, and no way to get there.

"You wouldn't believe what we witnessed," he remembers. "From babies to grown men and women, to old people, just human suffering and crying."

Newspaper accounts of those four days, indicates that looters broke into nearby stores and shops, scavenging for food. Anything they found, they brought back to the Convention Center. That was the only food and water available. People were being brought in through the standing water to the center, built on some of New Orleans' highest ground. They had looks of terror on their faces, according to the accounts, having just seen their homes underwater.

"In the Convention Center," says Doug, "we were at the mercy of the government. Everybody got disenfranchised and dissatisfied with the government authorities. For those four days, we had no communication, no privacy, no help, and much of the time, no food or water. It was absolutely terrible."


Eventually, the heat and the stress took its toll. At least four people died at the Convention Center, their bodies unceremoniously covered with blankets, haphazardly on the concrete, even one person who passed away in a lawnchair. Forgotten people, just like everybody else in the Convention Center.

It seems.. nobody knew anyone was in the Convention Center.

"Finally on Thursday evening," Doug says, "crews from CNN and Fox Network came into the Convention Center, and their mouths dropped open. They told us they were surprised to see us there, because authorities told them nobody was in the Convention Center or that part of town, that everybody was in the Superdome. The TV crews got on their radios and said 'there are people at the Convention Center, too.' Finally, this black National Guard colonel came in, looked at us in shock and said 'I'll get you all some help."

At that point, came the separation of families and friends.


"We all went to different places," Doug remembers. "I got a ride in an ambulance that had room for one more person, and I ended up at Baton Rouge in a makeshift shelter on the campus at LSU. My wife Vivian was picked up in an Army helicopter and flown to Austin, Texas. My sister Tina and sister-in-law Carolyn were both flown to Lafayette, Louisiana. We all spent the night away from each other. When they bought in the buses to take everybody away from the Convention Center, they didn't care whether you had family with you or not. If the bus seats 50 people, 50 people got on it, related or not. Families would just have to break up, and they shut the bus door. Authorities didn't handle that part of the evacuation very well, either."

Doug and his family were all reunited the next day in Kingsport after being separated at the Convention Center. "We had to spend our own money to fly back home," he remembers. "Nobody gave us vouches like other people got, but we all got back home safely, and that was good."

"What made me so mad," Doug says, "was, the United States is always so quick to go to other countries and give them help and supplies within 24 to 48 hours after a disaster, and there we were, stuck in New Orleans for four days, trying to get help, right here in the Unites States. Here we are, Americans, and cannot get any help. But you let something happen in some foreign country, and we got airplanes and ships with relief supplies, bringing recovery efforts. All of that, to people in another country."

"I think (New Orleans Mayor Ray) Nagin and the governor did the right thing this time, and made it a mandatory evacuation early on," says Doug. "Instead of sitting around and waiting on the storm to pass, they ordered everybody out long before it got there. The people may be upset, but I think it was the best thing for them, given what happened to us. It may be a hardship on residents, but I think they're gonna appreciate it later on."

"The best thing the government could have done in the past three years, would have been to get all those levees secure," Doug says. "From what I've seen and heard, the authorities made sure all that reconstruction started, but they've not spent all the money they should have, on making sure all the levees hold, especially the ones on the west side of town. They also should pay more attention to the basic needs of the people. Sure, Harrah's Casino is a good tourist attraction, but spend money to fix the levees, not to get Harrah's back up and running."

"My heart really goes out to the people," says Doug. "We've been there with them through it, and seen the looks of anguish on their faces. Some of the evacuees are in Kingsport right now at the Civic Auditorium and at a local church. It's traumatic being uprooted from your home and taken away to a faraway place. It's just heartbreaking to see their homes underwater, up to the rooftops."

"My wife and I are going back to New Orleans in a few weeks," Doug says, "to see what we can do to help the people down there. We've been through the best of times and the worst of times with them, and we know what it's going to be like, trying to get settled and re-settled. The Red Cross is already asking for volunteers to go down there, but we're going back on our own, to see what we need to do to help. We feel we owe that to them."

On New Orleans itself.. "It's a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there. There's just too much uncertainty as to when the next hurricane will hit. We'll even go back for vacation, but never again during Hurricane Season."


Buildings That Housed Former Black Elementary Schools Continue Legacy



NET News Service

JOHNSON CITY — Familiarity. Injustice. Nurture. Oppression.
These contrasting words can describe two small schools where generations of black students progressed toward Johnson City’s Langston High School — students who went on to become teachers, doctors, soldiers, masons, mechanics and nurses despite the substandard materials provided to them.


Now, 43 years after students entered the doors of Johnson City’s previously all-white elementaries, the buildings that housed those little schools are maintaining a legacy that recalls the best of what Dunbar and Douglass elementaries were all about.
With Grace Temple Church going strong more than two decades into its occupation of the former Dunbar, and the Boys To Men youth program mentoring young Johnson Citians inside the walls of Douglass, local residents who attended the schools have taken time to reflect on the days before integration.
Before they had a house full of kids in the 1960s, Carroll and Shirley Murphy couldn’t have predicted that in the midst of raising them, the long tradition of segregated schools would end. It was a tradition that, for all its negatives, offered some pluses as well, Carroll Murphy says.


“I had wonderful teachers,” he says. “I can name almost every teacher I had there. I think for the children’s sake it was positive because it was like having two sets of parents, school and home.”
That refrain echoes in the memories of Shirley Murphy, who attended school in Elizabethton, and with Georgia Gillespie, who went to Dunbar, where longtime principal Priscilla Owens ran a tight ship. Gillespie also attended Langston for one year.
“It was definitely a closer student-teacher relationship because the teachers knew everyone,” Gillespie says. “And they seemed to care more — they would tell your momma on you after school.”
Shirley Murphy says that approach may have been especially helpful for children whose home lives weren’t the best.
“The teachers were like their mentor,” she says.
Still, all those positives were occurring within a system that imposed the equivalent of apartheid on public education. And “separate but equal,” Carroll Murphy and the others say, was a myth.
“All the books we got were ones the other schools had used,” Murphy says.
“The one year I did attend Langston (Gillespie finished high school at Science Hill) it was like one big happy family,” Gillespie says. “We had used textbooks and used band uniforms, used everything, but we made it.”
The Murphys were obviously pleased when, in 1965, they sent their children for the first time to integrated schools.


Sadly, though, some of the positives from Dunbar, Douglass and Langston didn’t survive the change. Many black teachers weren’t offered jobs in the system.
“It was the black teachers that lost their jobs, not the white teachers, and they could have used them if they wanted to,” Carroll Murphy says.
One teacher who did stay on with the system was Mildred Goines, who had also gone to Douglass and then Langston, where she graduated in 1937.
She taught music, library and other subjects at the same school she had walked to from her home at 218 E. Myrtle Ave. in the late 1920s and early ’30s.
Goines remembers selecting her profession at the tender age of 5.
“I just wanted to be a teacher,” she says. “It was a great sacrifice, but that was what I wanted to be and I stuck with it.”
It wasn’t until Goines received her master’s in 1970 that she was attending integrated schools. She completed Swift Memorial Junior College in Rogersville, then began teaching while working toward her bachelor’s (which she completed in 1949) at Tennessee A&I (now Tennessee State University) in Nashville.
As for the fairness and value of segregated versus desegregated schools, Goines, who saw teaching colleagues released when the schools integrated, isn’t eager to say much.
“There was pro and con on both sides,” she says.
Around the time Goines moved from Douglass to Langston, the 1934 graduating class of North Junior High complete a civics project — “Know Our City” — revealing that the “Colored Schools” were built in 1907 (Dunbar) and 1921 (Douglass). The report listed enrollment at Douglass (the schools went through eighth grade) at 86 and Dunbar at 293.
The former Douglass building has once again become a scene of community as the home of Boys to Men/Girlfriends.
Its director, Michael Marion, says he hopes to build on the legacy of desegregation with the programs that now serve about an equal mix of white and non-white youngsters.
BTM recently led a trip to the Civil Rights Museum in Atlanta, which also hit some historic locations from the Civil Rights era. Marion said the event was very instructive.
“It’s great for kids to be able to see that life has changed and that their grandparents have made that difference, and they can continue to carry on that legacy of accepting and building a better place and not putting up with injustice,” Marion says.
He says desegregation, while absolutely the right thing, led to “a lot of schools losing that value of being a center of community where people gather together intergenerationally, build relationships, prepare for the future.”
“I like to think that we will become once again a center of community ... where children can learn the values of their community, learn how to give back, learn how to prepare for the future and to be part of a community. ”
“We can continue building on that legacy of desegregation, but do it in a school that was segregated.”
The Murphys say they hoped integration would open a new dimension of opportunity in education, and they believe it did. Their children all have good jobs and have had career opportunities that they didn’t, and when their oldest daughter, Angela, pursued her interest in cheerleading from North Side Elementary School through Science Hill and the University of Tennessee, she was accompanied all the way by two white friends.
“I felt that my children got the same education as any other child in Johnson City, and that was all the people wanted,” Carroll Murphy says.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Drivers Charged With Endangering Congregants Leaving Kingsport's Bethel AME Zion Church



One woman told police she was nearly struck and fell to the ground while trying to protect her 1-year-old grandson.


KINGSPORT — About 12:50 p.m. Sunday, Kingsport police responded to a report of two vehicles that had nearly run over several people attempting to leave Bethel A.M.E. Zion Church after attending the service there.

Two Kingsport women are accused of endangering the congregation by driving recklessly down Maple Oak Lane while adults and children were attempting to cross the street.
Evelyn Beatrice Lollar, of Kingsport, told police she was nearly struck and fell to the ground in an attempt to protect her 1-year-old grandson. Lollar said the two vehicles sped by as she was standing at the curb attempting to put her grandson in a car seat.
Witnesses said the vehicles sped past the church then stopped at the dead end, and the drivers began to argue. Tiffany Tarter, of Kingsport, pulled her vehicle across the road to prevent the pair from leaving, police said.
Madonna Ryleigh Jo Carlson, 19, of 156 Esterville Road, Lot 4, and Alfretta Renee Johnson, 38, of 818 Forest St., gave conflicting reasons about why they’d been speeding.
According to the police report, Johnson and passenger Lesley Miller said Carlson was driving at a high rate of speed, and they were trying to get her to stop.
Carlson and passenger Brian Puckett said Johnson had been chasing Carlson, and they were trying to get away.
Both Carlson and Johnson were charged with reckless driving and transported to the Kingsport city jail.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Life On The Mountain--Bays Mountain Home to One of Riverview's Oldest Families


In 1914, Kingsport Waterworks Corp., purchased 1,300 acres atop Bays Mountain Holston River Mountain to build a dam to create an impounded water supply for the of Kingsport. As the city grew, the reservoir failed to meet the needs of the expanding population. The use of the lake at Bays Mountain as a water supply was discontinued in . In 1965, a committee was appointed to study the feasibility of making the watershed area a city park. Today, Bays Mountain is a 3,500-acre nature preserve. But long before there was a lake and a park, as far back as 1750, Bays Mountain was home to settlers who built homes, farmed the land and raised their families.

Before it was a city park, Bays Mountain was home to several families


First in a two-part series

Jerome Pierce was born between 1848 and 1850 and raised in a one-room, dirt floor log cabin in Kingsport. Named Pierce after the family for whom his mother was a slave, Jerome ran away to serve the Union Army during the Civil War.
In 1865, at war’s end, Jerome returned to Kingsport. He purchased 73 acres on the side of Bays Mountain and built a log home, which still stands today. There, Jerome and his wife, Alice Luvenia Brown Pierce, raised one daughter, Virginia Pierce Bond, and four sons, Samuel Patton, Edward, Albert and M a t t h e w.
A little more than 28 acres of Jerome’s property was sold to Bays Mountain in April 2006, but the original homestead remains in the Pierce family and has been rented out for more than 40 years.
According to grandson Jack Pierce, Jerome’s property had a barn, grape vines, chicken and hogs. The original rock chimney — made of clay, mud and hog hair mixed together — still stands, and the original wood siding remains. The downstairs incudes a living room, kitchen and bedroom, with two rooms upstairs.


According to written histories, Jerome was a logger, and his skill with horses and mules became renown. He and two of his sons helped construct the dam atop Bays Mountain, hauling the stone and concrete using large Belgium horses. Jerome and son Albert also hauled rock, sand and cement for the construction of First Baptist Church on Church Circle in downtown Kingsport.
During the early years of Eastman Chemical Co., logging took place on and around Bays Mountain for the purpose of producing wood alcohol. Jerome and his sons hauled logs for the company on a Studebaker wagon.
Virginia Pierce Bond and her husband Alfred Bond raised 12 children on the rocky, wooded side of Bays Mountain. The Bonds built two homes there, both located along a trail above the present-day Sullivan Baptist Association Retreat Center.
Their first home was a one-room log cabin built around 1905 or 1906. Their second, a two-room frame house, was built around 1936.
The ninth oldest of the 12 children, Orvel Depew Bond, recently revisited his homeplaces. “Lord God, I remember living here,” he said as he surveyed what was left of his two homes. “Right here’s where I played at. Grandfather’s house was over the hill.”
Not much remains of either house today. A few logs can be found in the overgrowth. Orvel and his cousin Jack Pierce said that both homes, already in decay, were burned down by hunters years ago.
The frame home, Orvel recalled, was built by his brother Oscar and had one room upstairs and one room downstairs.
“The boys slept upstairs, the girls [and their parents] slept downstairs,” he said. Straw from a farmer was used to make mattresses, and new mattresses were made every year.
By the time the second home was constructed, some of Orvel’s siblings had moved out on their own.
What remains of the family’s well is still there, as is a concrete wall of their dairy, maintained separately from the house and cooled by creek water. Before the well was built, the family used a spring as their water supply. More often than not, it was Orvel’s job to haul either a five- or 10-gallon bucket farther up the trail to fetch the water. When the spring was being built, Orvel carved his name in the wet concrete.

David Grace —

When Orvel was 10 or 12 years old, he said, Paddlefoot Shipley dug the family’s well. “You used a pulley system with a rope to get the water. You didn’t have to pull it up by hand,” he said. “And if you let the bucket loose from the rope, you had to go get grandpa to get it out.”
Orvel’s father was a sharecropper who kept a third of what he raised.
“Our major food was probably beans and cornbread,” Orvel said. “That was about everyday food. In the fall, had hog meat. We didn’t have no beef back then.”
One Sunday a month, the preacher came from Jonesborough for the weekend, staying in the Bond cabin, Orvel said. One particularly Sunday sticks out in Orvel’s mind.
“My mother, she was expected to feed him over the weekend,” he said. Chicken from a nearby field were caught, killed and cleaned for the meal.
“She had this chicken on the back end of the stove ... in a pan of grease on the stove she’s frying chicken,” Orvel recalled. “Close to time to eat, before you’re going to eat you have to go up here in this holler and get some water for them to drink. So my mother called me in to go to the spring and get the water. Back then children ate after the compan y.
“When I went to get a bucket to get the water, I got me a piece of chicken to put in my pocket. She’d just took the chicken outta that grease and it was burning me to death, but I couldn’t take it outta my pocket ‘cause if I did, she’d come give me an awful whoopin.”
It wasn’t only the Bond children who visited the spring.

“I’m not saying they were moonshiners,” Orvel said. “They came and got water out of this spring.” But one man was determined to put the moonshiners out of business. “ [Jasper] Jap Crawford [a constable or perhaps sheriff], every once in a while he’d come out carrying a still on his back,” Orvel said. Orvel also remembers dragging wood out of the hills to warm the Bond home. “Winters were cold,” he said. “Some were rough.”
The youngster had his own novel way of keeping warm.
“I used to sit at the chimney,” he said. “The only warm place in this holler was outside the chimney during the winter.”
Orvel left his home on the mountain in 1943.
“My mother was still here. This was in ’43. When I left here I went to Uncle Sam. Twenty-one years,” he said.

Although Jack Pierce — son of Albert Pierce and Lena Fitzgerald Pierce — was raised in what was known as Old Kingsport, around the Netherland Inn area, he visited his Bond cousins on the mountain on occasional Sundays.
“I remember plenty of good food. All day Sunday we’d make a day of it,” he said.
In town, Jack’s father was a blacksmith who shoed horses for Pet Dairy.
Samuel Patton Pierce, another of Jerome’s sons, built his home on the site of the Sullivan Baptist Association Retreat Center. Along another path leading away from the center is the remains of the Samuel Patton Brown homestead.
Samuel Patton wasn’t married when he built his home, and it’s speculated that he built there to be near his sister, Alice Luvenia Brown Pierce, Jerome’s first wife.
Not much is known about Samuel Patton’s early years. He lived in the small one-room cabin prior to his marriage to Mamie Rutledge.
“As far as anyone knows, he built the cabin himself,” said his son, Montreal “Bounce” Brown.
The couple moved to Jonesborough where Samuel raised and traded horses, and where Bounce was born two months after his father’s death in July 1929.
As with the Bond cabins, not much remains of the Brown homeplace save for a few foundation rocks and logs.
“It’s hearsay, but they say the cabin was still here around 30 or 40 years ago, but the roof had caved in. The walls were still standing,” said Paul Strong, who with his wife serves as caretaker of the retreat center.

Jerome Pierce died in 1945 and is buried, along with Alice Luvenia and other family members, in the Pierce Chapel A.M.E. Church Cemetery, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000.

Next week: Whether Jeremiah Simpson was shanghaied from Germany or peeled potatoes to pay his passage from Ireland to the United States may never be known. What is known is that in 1848, he got a land grant for 367 acres in Hawkins County, very near present-day Bays Mountain Park.

Monday, August 18, 2008

What Will the New Riverview Homes Look Like? We've Got An Exclusive Look in Real Time!


Riverview's future is within sight!

Walker Construction is fast building the HOPE VI homes at Sherwood Road and Hiwassee Street in Kingsport, and quite frankly, they are very impressive. These homes are the exact same homes that will be built in Riverview beginning next year, on the site of the Historic Riverview Apartments, which were torn down in February.


Laying the foundations began in May.

The foundations are complete for most of the houses, and the homes are in various stages of construction, some of them to the point where insulation, flooring, plumbing and electrical work are the next items on the installation list.

The construction company expects to have five houses finished by the first of September, and 4 to 5 houses completed each month thereafter. The goal is to have all 24 homes completed by the end of this year or early next year. The time frame is weather-permitting, but by the looks of things, the homes could be completed ahead of schedule.

The homes have familiar names, which represent many families in Riverview. The names are The Blye (also known as the Bly) House.. the Cunningham House.. the Dobbins House.. the Douglas House.. and the Pierce House. Each home represents a different layout, floor plan, and number of bedrooms.

For folks from the Riverview Apartments to be able to move into the new homes, residents have to complete:

1. Complete a re-occupancy application.

2. All household members that are 18 years or older, have to be fully employed, a full-time student or a combination of part-time employed or student.

3. The head of the household has to take part in the Community Supportive Services program (CSS). This program consists of informational sessions that educated the prospective occupant on home ownership-rental responsibilities, along with a case manager, that helps the person develop goals to move towards self-sufficiency.

"We have been disappointed in the number of residents who decided to take part in the CSS program," says Doris Ladd, HOPE VI coordinator. "We've tried on many different occasions, at many different sessions at the Central Baptist Church, to encourage former residents to take advantage of the opportunity and resources available, to help them own a home. It's not as difficult as you might think, especially when there are programs out there that help them within things like improving credit, maintaining a home, and keeping payments steady. Again, it's not as difficult as you might think."

Although most Riverview apartments residents don't seem to be interested in either taking part in, or moving into the new HOPE VI homes, apparently their friends and neighbors in other public housing units, and even surrounding cities are VERY interested in the program.

"We have gotten questions from other public apartment complex in Kingsport," says Mrs. Ladd, in response to the question of whether a HOPE VI project is planned for the Robert E. Lee Apartments or the Frank Cloud Apartments. "Currently, we have told them there are specific plans to tear those apartments down, and replace them with homes."

There has been discussion of a HOPE VI program at public housing in both Johnson City and Bristol, though. "Those cities would have to make their own applications to the Department of Housing and Urban Development for the HOPE VI grant, as Kingsport did," says Mrs. Ladd, "and then they would have to win the grant, as Kingsport did."

In Kingsport, HOPE VI consists of four phases..

1. Renovating the Washington School into 54 apartments for seniors (completed in November last year,), PICTURE OF FINISHED APARTMENTS AT RIGHT.

2. Home Ownership Units (the 24 homes being built at Sherwood-Hiwassee (completion date early next year). PICTURE OF HOMES UNDER CONSTRUCTION AT RIGHT.

3. Rental Units (the 22 homes and 8 duplexes to be built at Riverview (completion date early 2010). PICTURE OF CLEARED LOT IN RIVERVIEW AT RIGHT.

4. The Riverview Community Center on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd (completion date 2010). PICTURE OF BUILDINGS TO BE DEMOLISHED ALONG MLK AT RIGHT.

Other activities taking place in Riverview right now, are the construction of 2 of the 4 homes being built by Youth Build, and the renovation of the V.O. Dobbins Community Center/old Douglass High School.

"We are right now ahead of the 5-year plan for the HOPE VI project," says Mrs. Ladd. "There are certain goals that the federal government requires of us, and certain paperwork that we have to submit within a certain timeframe, and if everything continues on schedule, we will finish ahead of the 5 year schedule."

Friday, August 15, 2008

A Lyons Chapel "Welcome Home" Commemoration

"How nice it is to get together.. without a funeral."

That's the observation from Richard Ford, organizer of the New Canton Family Reunion, at the last gathering for the families, friends and loved ones at the Lyons Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church in New Canton. It was the regular Sunday morning church service at one of East Tennessee's oldest black churches, chartered in 1869, but around a lot longer than that.

"It's important to bring everybody back home," Mr. Ford says, he himself from one of the community's oldest families. "Everybody's background is rooted in this church. Many families whose loved ones have passed on, generation after generation, came through this church at one time or another. There's hardly a black person even in Kingsport that cannot trace their family tree without coming through New Canton and this church."

"This place used to be the only place for us to come to back in the day," he remembers. "It was the center of activity for the community.. dances, socials, sporting events.. they were all centered around here, and because of that, it was always good, clean fun with a spiritual background."

Rose Darnell of Rotherwood, still had not been back to the little community she called home for a short time. Once she found out that people she'd known and grew up with would be coming back for the Reunion, she says, she couldn't wait to get back--50 years later.

"I lived in New Canton with my cousin Margaret Ford for about a year," she remembers. "They had the store back then, when I was about 15 years old. It was such a great experience for me as I look back on it. I love seeing the people, seeing them and talking to them and remembering things we used to do when we were kids."

"It's interesting now," she says, "because the place where we lived, is gone now. It's just an open field. I would say to the young people coming along, to come back once in a while, more than I did. I wish I would have come back sooner. Keep in touch with their roots, because this is where their parents and grandparents came from."

"We want to relive that closeness by fixing up our old New Canton School, one of the oldest black schools in Hawkins County when it closed back in 1966," says Mr. Ford. "We'd like to have things like celebrations, banquets, weddings, community gatherings, and even sporting events in a newly renovated community center," he says. "Our church anniversary is coming up, and we wanted to have the New Canton Family Reunion and the anniversary at the same time because they go hand in hand, but the timing wasn't right."

"No matter," says Lyons Chapel's minister, Reverend James A. Snapp. "We welcome everybody back home for either event, and I mean that sincerely."

The pastor meant it so sincerely, that he put aside the sermon he'd planned to preach this particular Sunday morning, and decided to speak off the cuff about "welcoming folks home who haven't been back to New Canton in years."

It was perfect timing.. when he asked for visitors to stand up during the morning worship service on this last day of the Family Reunion, almost half the church congregation stood up, to a chorus of "amen's" and "halleluyah's." Visitors named off states from near and far, cities that some of the older New Canton residents only knew, from hearing about them in the news.

Each visitor seemed to be no stranger to Lyons Chapel.. some spoke of their ancestors who call this, their church home for so many years. Others spoke of the devotion they had to this church and community, when they lived here, generations ago.

Had the many visitors stopped by Lyons Chapel a few weeks ago, they might not have known where they were, if they'd forgotten. "Back in the spring, vandals had torn up a mailbox out of the ground down the road," Reverend Snapp told the congregation, "and they threw it through our church sign." It wasn't a fancy sign, one with lights that can be seen from a far, in fact, it was just a plainly painted sign that had withstood the test of time, but not the test of a heavy object hurled through it.

Reverend Snapp spoke of it, almost with a reverance.. as if it were a friend, assaulted by lost souls who did not understand their actions. As he spoke of it, one could almost hear the Word of Jesus.. "forgive them Lord, for they know not of what they do."

But this story has a happy ending.

"Through some dedicated church members, their prayers and hard work," he told the parishioners, "when I drove up this morning, I saw this beautiful new sign that has been put up." The pastor thanked the church members, among them Sister Irene Richmond, Brother Billy Lyons, Brother Jimmy Leeper, who worked hard to get the new sign put up.

And in a special moment, the new sign was dedicated to the church, as is customary in African-American churches, to proclaim to everybody passing by on New Canton Road, that this is a House of God.

After some soul-stirring music from the Lyons Chapel church choir, Reverend Snapp told the congregation that great biblical story of the son who pestered his father for his share of the family wealth. After getting it, he left for whatever his fate had planned for him, leaving behind a grieving father to pray for his one-day safe return home. Tying that story in with the many New Canton Reunion visitors who'd also left home and returned after mahy years, the pastor spoke of the wonderous day when that wayward son came back home, to a father, awash with joy. "It's always good to come back home," he told the parishioners, "because, just like the father whose prayers had been answered, a father always loves his son, no matter how his life had turned out.. it's always O-K to come back home."

"Young people.. stay close to your roots," says Mr. Ford. "Always remember where your family came from, and above all, go as far in school as you can. That will give you purpose, and a reason to keep your heritage alive."

"And remember, just like Reverend Snapp told us today," he said..

"You can always come back home."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Diana Ross--Her Hawkins County Roots Are Indeed "Supreme"

(Published November 14, 2001)


By Rodney Ferrell

"Diana Ross slept here."

That's the appropriate plaque that should hang over the door of Beatrice Moore Cope's home, in recognition of her famous house guest's visit over 30 years ago.

Although she is very humble about Diana's Rogersville, Tennessee connection, Miss Bea loves to share the story with any attentive listener.

Many local baby boomers born in the 1960's may not recall the 1970 visit of super star Diana Ross. This was her first sojourn to Hawkins County, but for her father Fred, it was a homecoming. He spent the better part of his childhood in the Petersburg community near Rogersville. He lived in the log home of his grandfather Red Ross, Sr. Although Diana wasn't born in Tennessee, the Ross family tree roots are firmly planted in Hawkins County's fertile history.

The Fred Ross Sr. Family of Rogersville has ancestral ties to the Ross slaves of the Rotherwood Mansion in Kingsport. Reportedly, this section was once a part of Hawkins County. Rotherwood Mansion was built by Reverend Fredrick Ross around 1820, on a little knoll overlooking the Hoston River. Ross and his siblings inherited a great deal of land and slaves from their father, who had vast holdings in Tennessee and Virginia. At one time, the Ross family had over 500 slaves and an iron works factory in Lynchburg, Virginia.

After Fredrick received his calling into the gospel mininsry, the hatred and disgust he felt toward slavery manifested itself in the fiery sermons he delivered. His little brick church in Kingsport was often overflowing with a large congregation who came to hear him preach about he evils of bondage.

Ross' attitude may have been influenced by his reading Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin, written around 1818.

The book, wiith its vivid depictions of the horrors of slavery was probably consequential in his decision to free over 400 of the slaves he inherited and make provisions for their care.

This was not a popular gesture to make in 1820, especially in the South. Ross, who believed in abolition, was not accepted in may political circles because of his liberal views. But many of his former slaves would always remember his benevolence and kindness.

It was during these turbulent times that several of Ross's ancestors were born. It was a custom of the day for slaves to take the family name of their owners.


Around 1880, a slave named Fred was born on the Rotherwood Plantation, the great-grandfather of Diana Ross. It was around this time that the Ross family began to have serious financial trouble. Foolish business ventures, such as a silkworm factory, and the growing tension in the south over slavery began to take their toll. Joshua Phipps, a former overseer at Rotherwood, purchased the estate around 1847.

After the Civil War, Fred married Hannayh Varner, a former slave from New Canton. Fred worked as a sharecropper, and Hannah, a domestic. Soon they saved enough money to purchase several acres of land in what later became Petersburg. They built a log house and all seven of the Ross children were born there. Fred was a renowned carpenter, well digger and mason. Evidence of his masonry can still be seen in the stone foundation of the old Ross homestead.

As a small child, Hannah had worked in the Loom house of New Canton. She also had a loom in Petersburg, and wove off their clothes and coverlets. A few pieces of her handiwork can still be seen on display at the Museum of Appalachia in Norris, Tennessee.

Fred also helped establish the Petersburg AME Zion Church. They attended regularly with their children, whose names were John, who later married Fannie Lyons.. Robert, who never married.. Laura, who married Henry Knott.. Ella, who married George Cope.. Joe, who married Maomie Miller.. Harve, who married Irene Lyons of Surgoinsville.. and Edward, who married Ida Brice of Petersburg.

The Brice family has resided in the community since slavery days. Edward and Ida took care of Fred and Hannah Ross, when they could no longer do for themselves. They are both buried in the Brice cemetery near the Ross home.

Ida had a beautiful singing voice, and was often called upon to lead the choir at the church. She and Edward had four children, Georgia, Edna, Jessie and Fred Jr., the father of Diana.

Many families left the south in the 1930's, for the industrial city of Detroit, where jobs were more plentiful. After graduating frm Swift, Georgia and Edna moved there. When Fred was still a small child, his mother died, and he and his sister Jessie were sent to live with Ella and George Cope. Fred stayed there until he was nine years old. When his aunt Ella died, he was sent to Detroit to live with another relative. After George married Bea Moore, they made several trips to Michigan to visit relatives, but they never got to see Fred's daughter.

Diana was born in 1944 in Detroit. Even as a young girl, Diana, like her grandmother, had a beautiful voice. She began to sing with three other girls in high school in a group called the Prinettes. After signing a record deal with Motown, theiry changed their name to the Supremes. It was as the lead singer for the Supremes, one of the most successful groups in the history of rock music, that she obtained her greatest fame.

The group gained popularity with both black and white audiences. Diana sang with the group from 1959 to 1969, when she left to start a solo career as a singer and motion picture actress. Her first solo hit was 1971's "Ain't No Mountain High Enough."

Many years would pass before Fred Ross, Jr. would return to Rogerville to see his Uncle George. In 1970, Mr. Cope was 89 and had given up hope of ever seeing his famous niece. That same year, the Copes received news that Fred, his wife Ernestine, his Aunt Edna and Diana would be coming to Rogersville for a visit. Though they tried to keep her visit as quiet as possible, the Cope lawn was full to overflowing with people trying to get a glimpse of Diana. Bea Cope had her hands full getting ready for the former Supreme. A huge banner proclaimed "Welcome Diana." It was one of the highlights of George Cope's life to get to see Diana and Fred.

Diana seemed to enjoy her journey to her father's childhood home. Mr. Cope died the following March, but Mrs. Cope still survives to tell about that summer of 1970, when her family entertained a celebrity.

Around 1995, Rotherwood Mansion came up for sale, and rumors circulated that Diana Ross was interested in acquiring it. Indeed, it would have been ironic if a Ross could have again lived at Rotherwood, but under different circumstances. Whether or not the story was true, the deal never materialized.

The old Ross home in Petersburg has long since been torn down. Only the stone foundation and overgrown shrubbery remain. Nearby in a small cemetery, the slave ancestors of the Ross family finally rest from their troubles and trials. They certainly deserved their peace. They were a people of faith, storng in body and spirit, who were determined that each generation would do better than the one before. One of their descendents would reach supreme sucdess. Her father's people of Hawkins County would certainly be proud of Diana Ross.


Sign of the Times in Eastern Hawkins County

Sometimes when you take two steps forward, somebody shoves you back three or four.

I ran across this sign while riding around Sunday, August 10, 2008 in Eastern Hawkins County, taking pictures for the articles on the African-American heritage in that area.. a legacy we all share.

Yes friends.. this sign is posted in the year 2008.

Not 1948, or 1955, or 1964.


The sign has apparently been there for some time. I got out of the car and examined it closely because of the fading, and it appears to me that something had been spray-painted over it previously, and somebody scrubbed that off. The culprit apparently then came back later and sprayed-painted it again.

Although I am including the sign in a couple of articles, I feel it necessary to give it highlight this sign by itself.

It's absolutely amazing to me that in this day and time, there are still people who either still think like this, or allow their children or grandchildren to think like this. In a time when we are all judged by how we conduct ourselves around others, there are still some people who STILL don't give black people respect.

It may have been spray-painted as a joke. It is not funny.
It may have been spray-painted out of hate. God teaches me to love the person who hates me.
It may have been spray-painted out of disrepect. It is not respectful.
It may have been spray-painted out of ignorance. It is as ignorant as the painter.
It may have been spray-painted from peer pressure. It is the reason new friends are needed.

Take care. There are still some people here at home right in our own backyard, who think African-Americans should be neither seen, nor heard.


Remembering Swift Memorial College--Rogersville, Tennessee


From 1883, when the Institution was established, to 1963 when operations ceased, Swift College in Rogersville struggled often. William Henderson Franklin was ordained by the Union Presbyrterian Church, and was sent to Rogersville, to organize the college. He worked there 10 years, before a three-story brick dormitory and administration building were built in 1893.

Presbyterian Magazine By Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A, General Assembly: "THE BOYS NEW DORMITORY AT SWIFT MEMORIAL INSTITUTE ROGERSVILLE TENN "
An old school catalog offers a brief history of the hard times the school faced. "In those days, there were few education opportunities for Negroes, and very little desire for them," the catalog stated, "so it fell Reverend Franklin's lot, not only to preach and build, but also to arouse the people among whom he had come to labor, to see the advantage of a school in their midst for their children."

When black youths from this region had no where else to go for a high school or college education, Swift Memorial Junior College was there.

By 1893, Reverend Franklin had won over the community.

The college sat on a hill, one street back from Main Street on what is now Kyle Street, near where the Rogersville Presbyrterian Church now stands. The Institution was named for Reverend Elijah E. Swift, president of the board of missions for freedmen of the Presbyrterian Church, originally to be a girls' seminary.

After other white institutions were closed to blacks in 1901, Maryville College's Trustee Board voted $25,000 to Swift, from the $100,000 endowment made to Maryville. The fund was held by the church. Mrs. Harry K. Thaw gave $1,000 for land to build a boys' dormitory in 1903.

At first, only high school courses were taught, but in 1904, Swift became a four-year college, with Dr. W.H. Franklin becoming its first president. In 1913, the girls' dormitory facilities were expanded, when two wings were added to the main building. The young men's worm was destroyed by fire in February, 1926, and operations were hampered until a two-story brick building replaced the dorm in 1931.

The school finally looked like it was going places.

But in 1929, the college found out that the Tennessee State Board of Education was along only one year's college work, for every four years at Swift. The state board ordered county school teachers paid, oaccording to the number of college hours it allow the institution from which they were graduated, according to the catalog. Because of that, in 1930, the school's administration decided to cut the school back to a junior college, and follow those state standards.

It was in 1929, Swift Memorial College was reorganized as Swift Memorial Junior College.

"In days prior to the reorganization, Swift was indeed a nonconformist," the catalog read. "She paid little or no attention to standards of other institutions of learning, but mapped out her own curriculum and policy and pursued her course along independent lines."

According to student regulations listed in the catalog, Swift was a strict disciplinarian. "Swift is not a school for paupers, nor a reformatory for incorrigible boys or wayward girls," it states.

Students were not allowed out of the dorms at night, and were not allowed to go downtown, except when accompanied by a dorm parent. Most of the time, however, the students had to give a list of what they needed to the house parent, who went downtown to buy things for them.

At its peak, Swift had an enrollment of about 200, with students from most of the southern states, and some from as far away as Oklahoma. Finances were always a problem, it seemed, for in the catalog, there were blanks left for persons to leave Swift in their wills. It also offered high school and junior college curricula that met the requirements of the state of Tennessee. Graduates of the school were accepted at all standard colleges, and full credits were given for the work done there and transferred elsewhere. Even graduates of the teaching training department received the highest elementary teaching certificate issued by the Tennessee Department of Education.

The Reverend C. E. Tucker succeed Dr. Franklin as president, who retired after 43 years. Reverend Tucker retired at the end of the 1935-36 school year, and was replaced by the Reverend W. C. Hargrave. The Reverend R. E. Lee, the college's last president was appointed, when Reverend Hargrave retired in 1941.

Financial troubles and space problems forced the school to move to Jackson, Mississippi in 1955. The Hawkins County School Board operated Swift as a public high school until 1963, when county schools were intergrated.

The Boys' Dorm is one of the few remaining buildings on the former campus.

The main building was razed in 1964.

Many of the former students live in Rogersville and have formed a Swift Club, which raises money for various charities, such as mulk funds, according to Mrs. Bessie Childress, a club member.

The only thing left of Rogersville' African-American college now, are the president's home, the boys' dorm, and memories fondly cherished by former students.