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Saturday, February 27, 2021

News of Our Douglass-Riverview Alumni, Friends & Neighbors: LaVonda Harris-Price & Jerry Machen


Kingsport master artists pass on their skills through state program

This story courtesy the Kingsport Times-News by Calvin Sneed/Newspaper Community Contributor, through the Sons and Daughters of Douglass website

“The key word is ‘traditionality.’ ”

Dr. Bradley Hanson is describing a relatively new state program that promotes the passing on of traditional crafts and abilities from older generations to young people. He’s the director of Folk Life at the Tennessee Arts Commission.

“The Traditional Arts Apprenticeship program allows arts, crafts and skills passed down for hundreds of years to be taught to interested young people in an effort to keep those traditions alive,” he says. “In the five-year history of the program so far, we’ve had 53 teams of master artists and their apprentices.”

For the first time, two teams of a master artist and apprentice are coming from Upper East Tennessee, passing down the skills they have learned over the years to others eager to keep a legacy tradition alive.

Kingsport’s LaVonda Harris-Price was taught hairstyling born from an older generation. Years ago, Jerry Machen, also from the Model City, invented a new form of artwork, the results of which are now considered heirlooms. Today, they and their apprentices are keeping their inspirational traditions alive.


Harris-Price has always had an interest in styling the hair of African-American women. It started when she was 5 years old.

Pictured above is Harris-Price's mentor "Miss Tillie Trammell with an unidentified client in her hairdressing chair, circa 1960 (courtesy Dawn Trammell "Beeannie" Long)

“Our neighbor on Dunbar Street, Mrs. Tillie Trammell, ran a hair salon across the street. She was very good at hairdressing, always had lots of customers. On a personal level, ‘Miss Tillie’ as she was known in the Riverview neighborhood, said she’d keep me weekday afternoons until my mother got home from work. I could have been upstairs playing dolls with her daughter, but I would sit on the steps leading into Miss Tillie’s hair salon with my chin in my hands, watching how she’d style the waves and curls on the ladies that would come through. I was totally fascinated with it.”

Miss Tillie had been noticing the little girl watching her handiwork and knew she was picking it up.

“All of a sudden one day, she asked me if I wanted to try it,” Harris-Price says, “so she started showing me how to braid hair, how to plait it, and how to press and style it. And of course I just soaked it up. I would practice on my little doll heads and just loved it.”

Harris-Price says when she was older, Miss Tillie told her that she herself had been taught the art of braiding and styling African-American hair many years ago.

“That rang a bell with me that if I learned the method, one day I could pass it on, too,” she says.

After graduating from cosmetology school in Columbus, Ohio, in 1983, Harris-Price began doing hair professionally.

Lavonda Harris-Price styles the hair of Shelia Pinkston at her All About You Salon on Lynn Garden drive recently

Years passed by at one successful salon in Kingsport, and today she’s located at the All About You Salon on Lynn Garden Drive, still designing hairstyles for African-American women.

She calls herself an old-school stylist, proud of the heritage of styling African-American hair into works of art.

Harris-Price is on a mission to pass her ability on to the next generation.

Her apprentice is 15 year-old Zaniah Greene, a student at Dobyns-Bennett and a member of Kingsport’s New Vision Youth.

“Zaniah has told me different things that she’s doing with braiding that I’ve taught her, and she’s loving it,” Harris-Price says. “It’s a joy to take what I’ve learned from Miss Tillie and share that with someone younger who’s just as excited as I was at that age.”

Harris-Price remembers being surprised, but willing, when she got the call from the Tennessee Arts Commission about taking on an apprentice.

“It’s important that we share traditions, histories and legacies,” she says.

“In the end, who else but us?”


Machen began his career installing carpet in 1962 at a Johnson City furniture store.

“I had way too many carpet scraps just lying around the office and one day, I saw a picture in the newspaper. I’d been thinking a long time about branching out into artistic areas, and all of a sudden it hit me: ‘I’ll bet I can make a custom rug that looks like that picture with all these carpet scraps I’ve got around here.’

Machen made the first carpet sculpture on the floor of his Dunbar Street kitchen in 1972. He still has it today. If you look at it closely using your imagination, it looks like a view to the west at Kingsport’s Bays Mountain, with the sun about to set behind it.

“That one vision inspired me to make custom-made rug designs using scraps that probably would have been taken to the landfill,” he says. “Meanwhile, a person could just pick something out in their minds or what they’ve seen in a favorite picture, and I can design it and sew it together from these scraps. It’s carpet, so of course it can be cleaned like carpet.”

Eventually, Machen’s custom-made rugs moved from the floors to the walls. One of them was displayed as a calming influence in a familiar Kingsport establishment noted for trying to calm people’s nerves.

“For the Children’s Wing at Holston Valley Hospital,” he says, “I designed a 
carpet wall-hanging tapestry for the children’s playroom. It hung there for 
many years, covering an entire wall. The kids loved it. From that grew 
another wall-sized artwork: a bonsai tree overlooking a valley with 
mountains in the distance. They were both one-of-a-kind custom orders, 
where people told me what they wanted to depict and I sat down and
 designed it.  The result was magical artwork.”

That description was perfect for what the Arts Apprenticeship administrators

 were looking for.

“Jerry even speaks of himself as an artist,” notes Hansen.

Machen has had one noteworthy customer for his works of art, one with a familiar hankering for burgers, hot dogs and fries.

“Pal Barger called me up one day,” Machen remembers. “He’d heard about what I could do with carpet scraps, so he invited me to meet with him in his office. He said, ‘I’d like you to build me a rug with a Big Pal in the seat of a chair. On the back of the chair, I want a bag of Frenchie Fries. I know if anybody could do that, you can.’ ”

Machen went to the office and drew some designs from logo pictures Barger had given him. The two picked out the colors and the assembly began on the first one. Within a few weeks, the two finished products were a sight to behold.

“The expression on his face when he saw what I’d created was priceless,” Machen says.  “He saw it in his mind, and I put it into a carpet tapestry.... He absolutely loved it. His was the expression of a lifetime.  Those tapestries sat in the executive chairs behind his hot dog-shaped desk for a long time. When you saw the desk, you’d see the artwork.  I’m told that sometimes with visitors in the office, he would get up from his chair just so people would notice them. Even when he wasn’t there at the moment, you knew exactly whose office you were in.

“He said it was the most incredible thing he’d ever seen.”

When contacted by the folklife administrators at the Tennessee Arts Commission, Machen was surprised at first, as he admits most artists are.

“I took some convincing when they contacted me,” he admits. “Mine was not a talent that had been passed down to me, so I didn’t see how I would fit the legacy category.”

“Jerry’s talent does indeed fit a different pattern in the Arts Apprenticeship program,” says Hansen. “He didn’t learn to do his craft from an ancestor or anybody who’d done it prior to him. But the apprenticeship program also fits people who are self-taught in a particular area. In Jerry’s case, he takes old scraps of carpet bound for the trash heap and makes beautiful pieces of artwork with them. It’s easy to see how that would fit in the art world. ... That’s how it would fit into folk life, too. That type of talent can indeed be passed down to future generations.”

Stacy Kimble is Machen’s apprentice. He has a full-time job, but Machen says he kept asking him questions and needling him in a good way about custom rug tapestry.

“He likes to ask people what they’d like to see in a rug display, and I’ve been teaching him how to pick the right kinds of carpet for the tapestry and how to blend colors. Any color you can see in a picture, you’ll find in a carpet somewhere. The magic is when you size up what you need from the scraps, blend the colors into scenery or an object, trace the outlines and do the cutting. That’s the fun of it. Even if you make a mistake, you don’t throw away the mistake. What’s left might work in another design.”

Machen’s business, Agape Carpet and Rugs, is located on East Sullivan Street in Kingsport.


The Tennessee Arts Commission’s Folk Life Apprenticeship program provides incentives for participants as encouragement to follow through with the six-month program. Master artists receive an award of $2,000 and apprentices themselves receive $500. They also receive supplies and mileage. Administrators are always on the lookout for noteworthy occupations and pastimes that came from our ancestors that people are doing and need to be passed on.

“In the program this year, in addition to Jerry and LaVonda, we also have an African-American woman who designs and makes those lovely church hats for women to wear to Sunday services. It’s amazing that in the same year, we have one woman who designs hairstyles for African-American women and another who makes the beautiful hats that they wear to church. In another year, we had a shoe cobbler from Memphis and a man from Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee, who designs and carves carousel animals.”

(It turns out that Bud Ellis’ handiwork is displayed at the Kingsport Carousel and at Coolidge Park in Chattanooga).

At the end of the program in June, masters and their apprentices are invited to display their talents at a gallery exhibition in Nashville.

“We didn’t have one last year because of COVID-19,” says Hansen, “but we are hoping to bring all of these talented people to the state capitol this year to celebrate their crafts. Part of the program is getting the word out about what they do in a public display. It also helps us to discover new legacies that have been quietly passed down.

“In the short term, the master artists and the apprentices get money, but the program is more than just that,” he says. “Long term, we want to select people that we think will have staying power and hopefully the legacies will live on forever.

“We have to keep the cycle going,” he says. “It’s important to Tennessee, it’s important to the master artists who are passing down what they themselves learned, and it’s extremely valuable to the apprentices continuing the legacy.”

In Kingsport and Upper East Tennessee, the passing of the torch continues.

“The program is pretty incredible,” Machen says. “It’s a great honor to even be considered a master artist with a talent to pass on.”

Harris-Price agrees. She’s proud to get the word out about both her and Jerry’s crafts during Black History Month. “Ours are two African-American legacies that have to be taken up by the next generation,” she says.

“It’s what makes us unique as people.”

Sunday, February 21, 2021

New historical marker commemorates Black school in Scott County, VA

Story courtesy the Kingsport Times-News
Story and Pictures by Calvin Sneed, community contributor

Prospect Elementary School has just received a new historical marker along one of Scott County's main highways to commemorates the former African-American school's more than 100-year history.  

"It's something to be proud of... not every school gets a historical marker right by the main road for all to see."

Barbara Jean Rogers Clark - Prospect graduate, Douglass High School sophomore, Kingsport  1946

Barbara Jean Rogers Johnson has lived most of her 89 years in Gate City.  Although eventually graduated from Douglass High School in Kingsport, she'll readily tell you that the best of her learning years were spent at the Prospect Elementary School, which has just received a new historical marker placed along one of Scott County's main highways.  The marker commemorates the former African-American school's 100+ year history.

"We had a school back in the day where you were loved by teachers just like your mama and daddy at home," she says.  "Gate City was our home, and Prospect was our lives.  The marker is a good reminder of that, not just for us older ones, but the younger generations, too."

High on a hill, overlooking the former African-American communities of "Sticktown" and "Trot" in the western end of Gate City, stood the Prospect Elementary school, built in 1916 for Black children in a once-segregated society.  Mary Wolfe Colley was its longtime principal from 1936 to 1964.  Prospect teachers taught from first grade through the seventh and eighth grades; after that, a few students were bussed away to high schools in Bristol and Christiansburg, VA, but most of them graduated from the much-closer Douglass High School in Kingsport just across the state line.  The Prospect School closed for integration in 1964-65, its students sent to Shoemaker Elementary-Junior High and Gate City High Schools.  The Prospect school building was eventually torn down.  

A cornerstone and history plaque now celebrate the location, beside the current Hales Chapel United Methodist Church on Manville Road.

In the "family" of historical markers on Highway 23 North at the Gate City city limits that commemorate some of Scott County's most memorable events and places, now stands a plaque that features the Prospect School.  It was commissioned by the Prospect Alumni Association and placed just a few days ago, just in time for Black History Month.

"Our Prospect light is shining in the community once again," proudly says Penny Walker, whose many family members attended the school on the hill.  "Like most Black schools long gone in the region, everybody can now know there was also a schoolhouse for Black children to go in Gate City and Scott County and get a good education."

Prospect was one of four school buildings in the area built with money from the local Black community, the city-county school board and the Julius Rosenwald Fund, which provided money to help build thousands of Black schools in the South back in the early 20th century.  That notation is prominent on Prospect's marker.  The other Rosenwald locally co-funded schools were the New Canton School at Church Hill, the first Douglass School building in Kingsport on what is now East Sevier Avenue, and the Langston School gymnasium in Johnson City.  Of these historic buildings, only the gym in Johnson City stands today.

"Just like the other communities, we were a close-knit neighborhood in Gate City and the Prospect School was the anchor that held the neighborhood together back then," remembered Richard Maxwell, who graduated the school in 1946.  "Among the school work, our teachers taught us about life and being proud of our heritage.  That new monument is a testimonial to that."

His wife echoed that sentiment.  "My mother always said, to know your history is to know where you're going," says Rochelle Maxwell (above), Prospect Class of 1962.  "Prospect is not just Black history, it's everybody's history.  I hope and pray that people will see the historical marker, ask questions and learn about the little school that had so much tradition.  It's their history, too."

"As long as there was a good education to be had, graduates of the Prospect Elementary School got it," she says.  "A good education is truly a blessing, just like the school was."

          James Wood, Prospect graduate, Douglass High School senior , 1958

James Wood graduated Prospect in 1954 and Douglass High School in 1958, eventually coming back to substitute teach at Prospect.  He says, going to Kingsport wasn't a difficult environment because not only was Douglass practically next door, everybody at Prospect knew everybody in Kingsport's African-American community anyway.

"We would see folks from Riverview at church sometimes in Gate City, at family gatherings, at Douglass basketball and football games, plus we'd see each other in the Riverview neighborhood from time to time," he says.  "Prospect was the central part of a large family that also included all the churches in the region.   Going to Douglass was a continuation of going to Prospect, but Prospect had its own identity, too.  That's why it's exhilarating to see the school's monument on one of Scott County's busiest roads.  Some diligent work by several Prospect alumni has brought the long-gone school of our birth into the 21st century."

The family of historical monuments that Prospect is now part of on Highway 23 is peaking the interest of a lot of passing motorists.  The monuments all stand in a stately line, spaced between each other so that each can grab your attention as you travel by.  Visitors can park in a parking area provided by Gate City at the site, while they peruse and learn about Scott County history.

"It's interesting that some people will drive by slowly," noted Penny Walker watching the passing cars.  "They could be reading the markers to see if they recognize one of the sites, or, they're driving slowly and carefully in a solemn reverence to the historical sites mentioned.  I think it's both.  I think the monuments are there in cadence with each other and the parking area that Gate City has provided, gives people pause to their history."

"There's pride in that spot, just like there's pride in Prospect and the other historical places mentioned on the markers."

Prospect School alumni hope the historical marker is only the beginning for their organization.  So many people, both in the alumni association and in the Gate City and Scott County civic community contributed financially to get the monument manufactured and placed.  The alumni group is planning a dedication ceremony in the near future when it warms up in the springtime to thank everybody.  Another school reunion is planned for this summer.  The alumni association also welcomes donations to their efforts as well.  If you'd like to contribute, contact Rochelle Maxwell at (276) 386-9625.

Those donations paid off in getting the long sought-after historical marker.

"Joy.  That's the only word to describe that plaque," says Penny Walker.  "That's exactly what's going through my heart every time I see it.  So many people worked hard for this.  It's just the beginning of recognition for our little school.  It's just joy."

The little school on the hill for African-American children in Gate City will never be forgotten.  One of its oldest surviving students can attest to that.  She says the historical marker can be a catalyst that sparks conversation.

                  Barbara Jean Rogers Johnson, at 2018 Prospect Reunion

"People can say 'I never went to Prospect, but I heard it was a top-notch school," says Barbara Jean Rogers Johnson proudly.

"A good education like we received is always worth sharing."

DeLisa Ann Swagerty remembrance

DeLisa Ann Swagerty departed this life on February 17, 2021 to join her mother, Pastor Geraldine Swagerty in the open arms of Jesus.

The sun rose and the world welcomed DeLisa on August 15, 1956, a day the world became a little brighter.  DeLisa lived a compassionate and warm life, filled with love and happiness.  She will be fondly remembered and sincerely missed.

DeLisa gave birth to two sons, Judah “Kochies” Swagerty and DiMin’go Hale, and she loved them dearly.  She worked in sales while returning to complete her G.E.D., and later enrolling in Northeast State Community College to pursue her associate degree in Business Administration and completing course work in that field of study.  

She was an entrepreneur by heart.  During this time, she started selling t-shirts and other apparel items in flea markets, on street corners, and from the trunk of her car.  She would soon partner with her mother, the late Pastor Geraldine Swagerty, and they would both open their first store front selling apparel, gift novelty items, and decorative flower arrangements in downtown Kingsport, Tennessee.

Through her dedication and ambition, DeLisa would go on to help her mother, Pastor Geraldine Swagerty, create and establish the Kitchen of Hope in 1996.  She would play a major role in successfully helping to start this iconic movement for feeding the people of Kingsport.  Although the vision for the kitchen was first set by Pastor Geraldine Swagerty, it was through the determination of DeLisa that the Kitchen of Hope came to fruition.  To date, the Kitchen of Hope averages about 155 daily attendees, with approximately 120 volunteers and serving 3,700 hot meals to those in need. 

She was devoted to serving her community and was a member of Full Gospel Mission Church, the same church her mother founded in Kingsport, Tennessee.  She was also a member of CORA, a local member association to help promote social justice in the local region.  She opened her home to countless of people who needed shelter, from family and friends to the homeless on the street. She loved being of service to others. 

DeLisa Swagerty was a truly kind person who was a great listener and loved mentoring and consulting people on living life with joy.  She was preceded in death by her parents, Johnny and Geraldine Swagerty; nephews Lawrence T. Myrick III and Laquan Hayes, uncle Bobby “Tuggy” Smith, and Aunt Carolyn Maxwell.  

She leaves to cherish her memory her sons DiMin’go (Sara) Hale and Judah Kochies (Evelyse) Swagerty, her sisters Letitia (Edward) Hayes, Camellia Swagerty, Johnnie Mae Swagerty, and Angel Blye all if Kingsport, TN; 10 grandchildren to include Judah L., Elijah, Kyree, J’Zyah and Maia Swagerty; Malachi, Madisson, Micah, Moziah, and Major D. Hale; along with a god-grandchild Jazlyn Dorton and god-sisters Sarojini Jahangir and Glenda Vaughn; god-sons Marc Aples and Thomas Jahangir; and god-brother Buford Early all of Kingsport; along with a host of loving family members and friends.  

DeLisa Ann Swagerty will be greatly missed by those who knew her and can bear witness to her love and kindness for many. 

In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the Swagerty-Hale Family by visiting the link 

Funeral services will be conducted Saturday February 27, 2021 at 1:00pm from the Central Baptist Church.  The family will receive friends from 12:00pm until the hour of the service.  There will be no burial of the beloved departed.

Professional services and care of DeLisa Ann Swagerty and family are entrusted to Clark Funeral Chapel and Cremation Service Inc. (423) 245-4971.


Thursday, February 18, 2021

DeLisa "Lisa" Ann Swagerty announcement

DeLisa Ann Swagerty departed this life February 17, 2021 at Ballad Holston Valley Hospital and Medical Center. 

Arrangements are incomplete.

 Online condolences may be sent to the family at or 

Professional service and care of Ms. DeLisa Ann Swagerty and family are entrusted to Clark Funeral Chapel and Cremation Service Inc (423)245-4971.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Pastor Geraldine "Miss Patsy" Swagerty remembrances

Pastor Geraldine Swagerty, affectionately known as

“Miss Patsy” of 849 Dale Street in Kingsport was 

joyfully welcomed to her heavenly home on 

February 7, 2021.  She was 84 years young.

Pastor Swagerty was the founder of the Full Gospel Mission Churches in Kingsport and Greeneville, Tennessee. She was also the founder of The Kitchen of Hope in Kingsport, Tennessee in 1996. 
She established the Co-op grocery store for the community, was supervisor of the first black American Girls Club, and was a former employee of the Riverview Parks and Recreation Center under the leadership of Gabe Prescott.

She started the first African-American girl's softball team in Kingsport, the “Angels.” She also arranged for the counseling of all teenage children during integration and made provisions for students at Dobyns-Bennett High School in 1973. She organized the first community choir that was comprised of different denominations in the Kingsport area. 
Pastor Swagerty also had a love and enthusiasm for young people and introduced several of them to actress Cicely Tyson back in the 1970's while she was visiting ETSU. She had a heart for others and ministered to those in prisons and chartered buses to sing and preach the Gospel in many states and cities throughout the United States.   She served her community dutifully and with tremendous honor, in exceeding generosity.

She was devoted to being an exceptional visionary. She was a dedicated woman to her family of 5 generations, which is unmatched. 
She accomplished many great things during her lifetime and was awarded many honors including the Oprah Winfrey Women of Strength Award, the Outstanding Service Award from the South Central Kingsport Community Development Corporation, AHERN's Distinguished Service Award-Minister of the Year, and a City Proclamation of Geraldine Swagerty Day, September 22, 2019, by Mayor Pat Shull.

Pastor Swagerty was the most caring, loving mother and grandmother you could imagine!

She was preceded in death by her late husband, Johnny Swagerty; her parents, Cephas and Angel Crum Smith; grandsons, Lawrence T. Myrick III and Laquan Hayes; brother, Bobby “Tuggy” Smith; and sister, Carolyn Maxwell.

She leaves to cherish her memory her daughters, Letitia (Edward) Hayes, Delisa Hale, Camellia Swagerty, Johnnie Mae Swagerty, and Angel Blye all of Kingsport, TN; nieces, Angela (James) Morris and Crystal Bell Lee; nephew, Victor McMiller; brother-in-law, Larry Maxwell; 10 grandchildren; 30 great-grandchildren; 6 great-great-grandchildren; special nurtured children, Sarojini and Thomas Jahangir, Cynthia Howard, Miles, Mary, Susan, Laura, Russell, and Wes Burdine, and Linus Griffin; special friends, Janie Goodwin, Bunny Moore, Nellie Valk Rogers, Micheal Jackson, and Ralph Watterson; cousins, Terry and Jean Ann Moore all of Kingsport, TN; along with a host of family members and friends.

Pastor Geraldine Swagerty will be Greatly missed by all who knew Our Queen and Love!!!

In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the Swagerty Family at 849 Dale St, Kingsport, TN 37660.

Services for Pastor Geraldine Swagerty will be conducted Saturday, February 13, 2021, at 2:00 pm from the Central Baptist Church.   The family will receive friends from 1:00 pm until the hour of service. 
Burial will follow at the East Lawn Cemetery, Kingsport, TN.  
Care and service of Pastor Swagerty and family is entrusted to the Clark Funeral Chapel and Cremation Service, Inc. of Kingsport, 423-245-4971.