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Monday, June 21, 2021

Freedom is Ringing in Riverview! City Marks Juneteenth with Parade and Riverview Bash

 These two combined stories by Calvin Sneed were written for the Kingsport Times-News, Saturday June 19, and Sunday June 20, 2021.  Events happened on Friday, Saturday and Sunday of Juneteenth

KINGSPORT — About 75 people joined in the Juneteenth Parade in Kingsport on Friday, June 18th, making the journey from Centennial Park downtown to the V.O. Dobbins Ballfield in Riverview.

Community leaders, children and seniors joined in the parade, either riding or walking the distance.

Kingsport’s parade came just over 24 hours (25 hours to be exact) after President Joe Biden signed legislation establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday. It’s the first federal holiday designation since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was named a holiday in the 1980s.

The recognition of Juneteenth resulted in a jubilance in the marchers and the people waiting on them in the Riverview community.

Friday’s parade kicked off a full slate of activities planned for Saturday to celebrate the Emancipation Proclamation in Kingsport and the ending of slavery in the United States.

On Saturday, June 19th, it had all the ceremony and pageantry of a celebration and a festival to follow.

But when the ceremony is the end of slavery in America, the program is a little more formal, and the festival is a little more joyous.

Kingsport's Juneteenth commemoration began in the V.O. Dobbins Ballfield on Saturday morning, with a welcoming letter from Tennessee Governor Bill Lee.  The governor congratulated Kingsport for "honoring the memory of those who were held in bondage," realizing that "while work remains unfinished, we are thankful for all that has been done in the years since the first Juneteenth to fight discrimination and prejudice."

Through the "Eastman Connects" initiative, Karen Ellison presented longtime Riverview resident Jack Pierce with an honorarium, then Bishop Ronnie Collins related the purpose of Juneteenth up to today and beyond.

Kingsport Mayor Pat Shull presented a proclamation honoring the holiday, followed by City Manager Chris McCartt updating the participants on Kingsport's growth as a community.  Chamber of Commerce CEO Miles Burdine shared a poignant moment when he read the names of Pal Barger, Ruth Montgomery, Tony Hewitt, Ken Lane, Herb Ladley, Sid Cox, Richard Watterson, Carrie Upshaw, Ernie Rumsby and Geraldine Swagerty, all prominent Kingsporters who passed away this year.

After remarks by Kingsport police chief Dale Phipps and Sullivan county deputy chief Tracy Kittrell, alderman Paul Montgomery read a resolution on Kingsport's Juneteenth commemoration by the Tennessee legislature, then alderman Betsy Cooper officially began the Juneteenth observance by declaring that "Freedom is ringing in Kingsport!"  It did indeed, in the form of a bell that tolled the beginning of the celebration.

From then on, the commemoration took a sport-related turn, in fact.. the Dobbins ballfield became a "sports central" of sorts for kids with three popular camps.

First up was the wrestling camp in the Dobbins gym led by DB coach Wesley Idlette, who taught 25 kids the basics skills of wrestling along with former DB wrestling standouts Clint and Tre Morrisette.  

From left, former DB football coach Graham Clark, DB athletic director Frankie Debusk, and DB wrestling coach Wesley Idlette

"These were skills the kids can have fun with at the beginner level.  Once they get to the high school level, we can fine tune some of the things they learn to make them the best possible wrestlers they can be."

Outside, a football camp was conducted by legendary former DB coach Graham Clark, present coach Joey Christian, and former NFL player Teddy Gaines and DB current assistant coach and former UT player Malik Foreman.  Coach Clark immediately zeroed in on a 14-year old freshman quarterback, Layton Kennison, visiting the Model City from Florida.

"That kid's got some skills," Coach Clark noted.  "We're trying to teach him basic footwork on quick game, and what we called in the old days five-step-drop.  Since you're in the shotgun already, it's one, two, three and you're ready to throw."

"They're showing me how faster footwork comes in," Layton says, "how to set my feet faster, which gives me a better release technique when throwing to a receiver.  The quicker I can learn it, the better I can get at it.  That'll help me play high school and then college ball."

Left, Layton Kennison of Florida, working out with DB assistant coach Ty Hayworth

"We're got some property up here in Kingsport if he needs it," Coach Clark joked.  "He's a talented player and a fast learner with good-looking skills."

On the basketball court, the skills being taught came from assistant DB coach Dimingo Hale and former player Travis Sensabaugh.  It was a fast seventh-grader that caught Coach Hale's eye.  "We're showing him and the other campers dribbling, getting low and passing the ball, and learning the right way to do a layup."

He says, Sevier student De'ron Clayton may have what it takes to get to the NBA one day, an observation not lost on Clayton.  "It helps me a lot to be ready for high school and college and the big leagues," he says.

Coach Hale says the idea of hosting sports camps on the Juneteenth holiday goes hand in hand with setting goals and not giving up.  "Even in failure, you pick yourself up, dust yourself off and continue pushing forward.  "Junteenth has always been about celebrating a goal and never straying from it.  These kids can learn that valuable lesson as early as possible."

Going hand in hand with the sports camps was food and music in the Dobbins ballfield on a warm partly cloudy Saturday afternoon.  All kinds of food from fish to wings to barbeque and baloney sandwiches tempted everybody's diet plans, along with cotton candy, drinks and flavored ice.

Christian singer Aaron Cole sang rap music songs to the crowd that won him the Dove Award for Best New Artist of the Year, the first Christian hip-hop artist to ever win that award.

Speaking of hip-hop, the Holloway Dance Studio put on a show inside the Dobbins gym, while Doris Kaifa's group from Johnson City modeled the latest outfits in an outdoor fashion show on the ballfield.

Sunday's Juneteenth event was a Gospel Fest at 4 PM on the ballfield stage, featuring songs from Atlanta's Bonita Williamson and music from Christian singer-songwriter Tobias.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

The Douglass-Riverview Museum: Do You Like the Idea?

Greetings, fellow Douglass Alumni and Riverview friends and neighbors!

The city of Kingsport is considering the establishment of a Douglass School-Riverview Community museum that highlights important people, dates, activities, families and items that have contributed to the history of the city's African-American neighborhood.   Museums of this type are all around Tennessee, the nearest to Kingsport is at the Nathaniel Greene Museum in Greeneville, where an entire room is devoted to African-American history in Greeneville and Greene County.  Another museum of this type highlighting Black community would be novel in East Tennessee.

The location for a Douglass-Riverview museum is under consideration, but the establishement of the museum is dependent upon three things.

1)  The enthusiasm of the Black community and its alumni for such a museum.

2)  The support in said community for a Douglass-Riverview Museum.

3)  The willingness of Douglass Alumni and Riverview residents to donate needed items to be on permanent display in a museum.

The last condition, #3 is the most important one.  All museums consist of donated items that have historical interest.  A committee consisting of members of the Douglass-Riverview community and the city would be established to determine which donated items are worthy of display and exhibit.  The amount of donated items will determine where a museum would be located.

What could be donated?  Pictures, household items, you-name-it, for example.. dig into the back of the closet where Granny so-and-so kept all of her pictures and letters.. go into the attic where Granddaddy kept all of his World War 2 stuff... go down in the basement where Aunt Tessie's old sewing machine is that she made choir robes for church... go in the garage and get Uncle Joe's old plow that he plowed up that empty lot on Dunbar Street with to make a garden... go find those hair curler and hair dressing things that Miss Tillie used to use, that Miss Ethel  Walton Daniels used to use in their salons, things like that.

If you like the idea of a Douglass-Riverview mueum, drop a line to and let us know if you'd like to participate by donating items.

The success of a museum of this type will depend on the enthusiam of the community.  If you have spirit for a Douglas-Riverview museum, let us know so that the city can hear from the Black community about it.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Come Home to Riverview: Historic Four-Day Juneteenth Celebration at V.O. Dobbins Ballfield


One of many events in the Douglass (V.O. Dobbins) Ballfield.  Imagine many more booths, exhibits, food vendors, tents and activities during this weekend's Juneteenth Celebration ONLY in the Riverview Community.

You're all invited to commemorate the upcoming Juneteenth celebration in Kingsport's Riverview community at the V.O. Dobbins Community Center and Ballfield.

For many years, our ancestors have always celebrated African-American events at the V.O. Dobbins Community Center.  It is our own Douglass High School and the Douglass Ballfield in our hearts.  We've honored our high school graduates, our neighborhood happenings, our church gatherings.. the heart and soul of the Black community is deeply rooted in Riverview.

All of the Riverview-Dobbins ballfield events are free of charge.  Free, free, free.  You will never be asked for donations.    Our Black community is worth that for the celebration of Emancipation Day.  There is also free parking in the nearby Eastman Headquarters parking lot.. you and your kids and grandkids are just a short walk away from fun, good food, great entertainment among your family and friends in the Black community.

You're also invited to begin Riverview's festivities by lining Kingsport's Main Street from Centennial Park downtown (corner of Main and Cherokee Streets) around 5:30 PM on Thursday.  The ONLY Parade celebrating Emancipation marches to Riverview on that day to our own Douglas Ballfield.  The parade launches at 6 PM.

The commemoration of the freeing of Black people from slavery is more than just one day that comes and goes.  Come celebrate FOUR days of entertainment and education in the Douglass Ballfield, from Thursday's educational presentation, all the way through Sunday's Gospel Fest.  Below is a handy itinerary of more than 15 events in the Ballfield and nearby Community Center on Saturday, PLUS more than 30 booths, exhibits, food vendors, arts & crafts, and individual activities all going on.

We've been through a lot in Riverview, Southwest Virginia, Hawkins County, Bristol and Johnson City in the past few years, the latest being shut up and shut down from COVID 19.  We've even lost some of our loved ones to that feared virus.  As African-Americans, we still have a ways to go to achieve full freedoms in this country, but by coming together in our Riverview, we can celebrate what we have with our loved ones.  Bring a lawn chair and celebrate Emancipation in the only place that lives in our hearts and souls.  Meet your friends and relatives in the Tri-Cities at the V.O. Dobbins Community Center Ballfield in Kingsport on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and catch the historical perspective in the virtual presentation on Thursday evening.  

We start first, and we go longer.


6:00 PM - Virtual presentation on Juneteenth, the Constitution and Civil Rights with Dr. Stewart Harris, associate director, Abraham Lincoln for the Study of Leadership and Public Policy, Lincoln Memorial University.



6:00 PM - Juneteenth Parade from Centennial Park, downtown Kingsport to the Dobbins Ballfield, Louis Stree & MLK Drive, Riverview

5:00 PM - National Guard Drug Stash Mobile in the Ballfield
8:00 PM - Outdoor movie:  "The Nutty Professor" (PG), Dobbins Ballfield (free popcorn and cotton candy)



10:00 AM - Opening ceremony, Special Letter of Welcome - Calvin Sneed
                "Amazing Grace" by Abey Hensley

10:30 AM - Purpose of Juneteenth:  Eastman Connect - Bishop Ron Collins and Karen Ellison
               - Juneteenth Proclamation from Pat Shull, Mayor of Kingsport
               - "Kingsport" from Chris McCartt, Kingsport City Manager
               - Words of Unity from Miles Burdine, Kingsport Chamber of Commerce CEO
               - Remarks from Dale Phipps, Kingsport City Police chief and Deputy Chief Tracey Kittrell, Sullivan County                         Sheriff's Department
               - Reading of Tennessee State Legislature Resolution by Kingsport City Alderman Paul Montgomery
               - Remarks from Hunter Locke, Sullivan County Commission

               - TOLLING OF THE FREEDOM BELL to begin the Juneteenth Celebration Events:  Kingsport City Alderman Betsy Cooper

NOON - 8 PM:  DJ Jimmy Jam

11 AM - 1 PM:  DB Double Dual Wrestling Camp, featuring coach Wesley Idlette and Trey & Clint Morrisette

NOON - 1 PM:  Unity Drum Circle

1 PM - 2 PM:  DB Football Camp, featuring former coach Graham Clark, current coach Joey Christian, former players      Teddy Gaines and Malik Foreman
Unity Food Tasting - Douglass Community Room, V.O. Dobbins Community Center

2:00 PM - 4:00 PM:  DB Basketball Skills and Drills, featuring former players Dimingo Hale and Travis Sensabaugh 

3:00 PM - 4:00 PM:  Juneteenth Band from Washington, DC

4:00 PM - 4:30 PM:  Demonstration by the Sullivan County Sheriff's Department K-9 Unit

4:00 PM - 5:00 PM - Concert by Dove Award-winning singer rap artist Aaron Cole

5:00 PM - 5:30 PM:  School Supplies Giveaways by the Vic Danger Legacy Bikers

5:00 PM - 5:30 PM:  Holloway Dance Hip Hop (V.O. Dobbins large gymnasium)

5:00 PM - 5:45 PM - Kaifa African Fashion Show

5:30 PM - 6:00 PM - Door prizes

5:45 PM - 6:15 PM:  Fraternity Step Show by Phi Beta Sigma members

6:20 PM - 7:00 PM: Juneteenth Band selections

7:15 PM:  Closing Remarks on day's events, information about tomorrow

Additional on-going booths and information at the Dobbins Ballfield all day:

Balloon Art by New Vision Youth
Beach Hut
Mona's Food Factory
Eastman connect Resource Group booth
Joe Bradley Inflatables
Sons and Daughters of Douglass Alumni Association
Central Baptist Church Voter Registration
Job Corps - Shiloh Baptist Church
Northeast State Community College - Drones and Helicopter
Sullivan County Health Department - SCAD
KT - Notary Mobile Tina Thompson
United Healthcare
Girls, Inc.
Appalachian Literacy Initiative - Book Giveaways
Northwestern Mutual Finances and Insurance
Clark Funeral Home
Sack Races in field
Kid's Center
Johnson City NAACP/UMOJA Face Painting
Dancing on the Stage
Food Booths and Vendors (fish, wings, bologna sandwiches, hamburgers, hot dogs, drinks)
Lamplight Theater
Creations by Tish and Angie
Friends & Neighbors
New Vision Youth & Children of the Community Free T-Shirt Giveaway
Sullivan County Sheriff's Department Youth Fingerprinting (must have parent present)
Marsh Blood Mobile Unit
Kingsport Fire Department
Sister's Cravings
KHRA Life Skills
Farmasi by Radiance Skin Cosmetics
Soloist rap artist Zacharias Dukes
Operation HOPE/First Horizon Bank National Community Outreach



4:00 PM - 5:00 PM:  Welcome and Prayer from Minister Tanya Foreman
                              Scripture by Pastor Barry Braun
                              Musical Selection from Abey Hensely
                              Atlanta Gospel Soloist Bonita Williamson
                              Juneteenth Poem by Sister Donna Morrisette
                              Why Juneteenth by Bishop Ronnie Collins
                              Music by Christian singer Tobias
                              Closing Remarks by Bishop Ronnie Collins
                              Benediction by Rev. Kenneth Calvert

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Kingsport to Celebrate Juneteenth with Events at V.O. Dobbins Community Center and Douglass Ballfield


KINGSPORT -- Freedom is still ringing in upper East Tennessee, and it's about to sound off loud and clear in Kingsport.

For the first time, the Model City joins other Tennessee communities in celebrating the Emancipation Proclamation that freed American slaves 156 years ago.

"The get-togethers were always a festive atmosphere with music, food, kids' activities, with one difference," said Kingsport's Johnnie Mae Swagerty, who attended many local events out of town as a child. "The older ones would always talk about why the celebration was important to Black people."

The event is technically called Juneteenth, an African-American reference to June 19. On that day in 1865, a Union general rode into Galveston, Texas to announce that President Lincoln had freed the slaves in the Confederate states on Jan. 1st, 1863.

At that time, the law freeing the slaves did not apply to Tennessee, but that was solved by then-military Gov. Andrew Johnson, who freed his personal slaves on Aug. 8th of 1865.  For years, African-Americans in the Volunteer State, particularly in Greeneville where Johnson was from, officially commemorated Aug. 8 as Emancipation Day with huge celebrations, with a nod to Jan. 1 and June 19.

One of the slaves that Johnson freed was Vannie Van Buren Elizabeth Johnson Crum, Swagerty's great-great grandmother.

Vannie Van Buren Elizabeth Johnson Crum, Johnnie Mae Swagerty's great-great grandmother holding President Andrew Johnson's daughter Margeret

"She was the nanny to Johnson's daughter Margaret," Swagerty said. "To me, it was difficult to think she was a slave because it's come down through the generations that the Johnson family treated her extremely well. She stayed with the Johnson family even though she no longer had to.

"Years later, we always celebrated August 8th with the Greeneville folks, and that's why we want to make Kingsport's Juneteenth successful," she says.

Swagerty is making good on that promise. She's the organizer and administrator of Kingsport's four-day Juneteenth events being held at Riverview's V.O. Dobbins Ballfield and Community Center.

Riverview is the ancestral heart of Kingsport's African-American community.  It's fitting that the Kingsport celebration to a national tradition be held at the one place that holds a special place in the hearts of the city's African-American community.

The Juneteenth observance begins on Thursday, June 17th with a virtual Facebook presentation by Dr. Stewart Harris, associate director of the Abraham Lincoln Institute for the study of Leadership and Public Policy at Lincoln Memorial University. 

Dr. Harris will speak on Juneteenth as it relates to the Constitution and civil rights. The discussion is sponsored by Eastman. Tonya Foreman is the company's education initiatives manager and a member of Eastman's Connect group.. she also co-chairs Eastman's community outreach program.

"There are many issues involving Juneteenth that prompt questions" Foreman said. "It always opens up avenues for understanding. Any time we can fellowship in a festive atmosphere and enjoy each other's culture and heritage is a great time to learn from each other."

The Juneteenth Parade on Main Street to MLK Drive on Friday, June 18th will remind you of the Douglass Alumni Reunion Parades like this one from June, 2007

On Friday, June 18, the holiday kicks off with a 6 p.m. Juneteenth parade from Kingsport's Centennial Park to the V.O. Dobbins Ballfield in Riverview, where an outdoor family movie features "The Nutty Professor," starring Eddie Murphy at 8 p.m.

Swagerty says that's only the beginning of exciting activities in the community over the weekend. She says get ready for some good entertainment by bringing your lawn chairs to the outdoor movie.

"We are furnishing free popcorn on Friday night," she says. "It kind of gets you ready for Saturday's big activities."

Imagine the activities on the Douglass Ballfield during Rhythm In Riverview being three or four times BIGGER... that's what the Juneteenth celebration will be on the ballfield in our home neighborhood-- THE ONLY PLACE TO BE ON SATURDAY, JUNE 19TH!

Keep those lawn chairs handy.  Saturday is a community unity day on the Dobbins ballfield beginning at 10 a.m. with proclamations, letters and declarations of welcome by Kingsport city officials. 

There's plenty to do on Louis Street at MLK Drive with on-going activities like information booths and food vendors, and face painting, inflatables, sack races and finger painting for the children.

All of the events and concerts in the Dobbins ballfield are free of charge.  "The pandemic hit folks hard in the pocketbook," Swagerty says.  "We wanted to make things easy by making things free and not asking for donations."

At 11 AM, Juneteenth turns sport-oriented with a free double dual Wrestling camp, hosted by DB Coach Wesley Idlette, two-year region standout Clint Morrisette and his twin brother Tre Morrisette, the Super 14 TSSAA Wrestler of the Year, 160-pound class (pre-registration requested).

Former DB Coach Graham Clark

              Teddy Gaines                            Malik Foreman

A football camp hosted by former DB Coach Graham Clark and current DB Coach Joey Christian kicks off at 1 p.m.  It features former DB and NFL player Teddy Gaines and former DB and UT player Malik Foreman teaching the basics to aspiring players.

Past Soul Food Gathering in Riverview

Take a break also at 1 p.m. to get your taste buds on with food tasting in the nearby Douglass Community Room.  Everything from soul food and southern food, to Hispanic, Puerto Rican and South African dishes will tempt the palate.

At 2 p.m., the sports competition continues with a DB basketball skills and drills demonstration by former DB stars Travis Sensabaugh and DiMingo Hale.  It involves skills and competition for basketball players of the future.

Parents and spectators are encouraged to watch and cheer on the sports participants.  Everybody taking part will get certificates of participation and there'll be door prizes given away in the field all day long.

Saturday really gets wound up at 3 p.m. with the Juneteenth Band from Washington, DC with some rousing selections. 

Then, attendees can see law enforcement officers of the four-legged kind get put through their paces with a K-9 demonstration by the Sullivan County Sheriff's Department.

At 4 p.m., one of the Tri-Cities' favorite sons takes the stage in the ballfield.  Singer Aaron Cole of Bristol, Virginia is a Dove Award winning artist, whose Christian rap has been bringing young people to Christ for years. 

He's eager to perform in front of the home folks.  "Everything I sing about is built around hopefulness," he says. "Juneteenth is a hopeful holiday about all people coming together, treating each other as equals. It means a lot to me. It's important to educate people about parts of history that they may not know about."

Click on the video to hear a personal message from Aaron Cole to the folks coming to the Douglass Ballfield on Saturday, June 19th:

"Aaron's rap artistry helps kids make meaningful Christian decisions in their lives," says Swagerty. "His music just makes you feel good."

Three events are scheduled for 5 p.m. Motorcycles roll onto the ballfield when the Vic Danger Legacy Bike Riders will give away school supplies and back packs to area students and visit with seniors in the Riverview community. The late nationally renown bass guitar artist Vic Danger grew up in Riverview, and the giveaway is part of his legacy of helping local youth achieve their educational goals.

Also at 5, the Holloway Dance Studio holds a hip-hop show in the nearby Dobbins community center gym, and the latest designs will be on display in a fashion show held outside, sponsored by Doris Kaifa of Johnson City. Women's and men's clothing from Europe, America and West Africa will be modeled in the show.

As the Saturday activities wind down, the latest fancy "steps" will be stepped off in a "step show" by members of the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity, and then the evening ends with musical numbers from the Juneteenth Band.

On Sunday, the Juneteenth Celebration Gospel Fest kicks off at 4 p.m. with spiritual songs from Abey Hensely, Atlanta's Bonita Williamson, and headlining music from Christian singer-songwriter Tobias.

As Kingsport gets ready to join the chorus of communities commemorating the end of slavery in America, comes a nationwide effort to make June 19th-Juneteenth a federal holiday. Ron Carson, the co-founder of the Appalachian African-American Culture Center in Pennington Gap, VA welcomes the idea.

Ron Carson of the Appalachian African-American Culture Center relaying Black History to the New Vision Youth in March, 2020

"With January 1st and June 19th in many states, plus August 8th in Tennessee, it's too confusing," he says. "June 19th makes more sense because more people around the country consider the day when the official announcement was made in Texas that worked its way back east. The celebrations came down to when each state received the news by horseback back then. Today's effort is to try and get everybody on the same page."

That sentiment is echoed by Bishop Ronnie Collins, organizer of Kingsport's annual Martin Luther King Day March. "A national celebration of freedom for any American is a celebration of the ideals that make our country what it is today... a place of diversity, equality, inclusion and justice for everybody."

Both civic leaders agree that "Juneteenth is not just Black history, it's American history."

Meanwhile, Johnnie Mae Swagerty says she has an idea on how Tennessee could decide whether Jan. 1, June 19 or Aug, 8 is better to celebrate in the state.

"Pick June 19th and call it June-Aug-Teenth-the First," she laughed. "How's that for compromise?"