Change Through the Camera Lens

By Joey Bryan, CHP Graduate Research Assistant

As I discussed briefly in my last blog post, “Chuggin’ Right Along,” I helped create interpretive panels explaining the transportation history of Smyrna, Tennessee, for future display in the city’s recently renovated train depot. In addition to writing a history of the depot, I had to locate images that illustrated the panel text. I had previous experience in researching images based on my involvement with the Tennessee Civil War Trails program that works with communities throughout Tennessee to erect interpretive wayside markers. The Smyrna project, however, gave me a unique perspective on the power of photography in the preservation field.

My search took me to no less than four physical and online photograph repositories, as I sifted through hundreds of images to locate appropriate pieces to fit the text of the various panels. The Walter King Hoover Papers housed at the Albert Gore, Sr., Research Center gave me a plethora of pictures that chronicled the history of Smyrna from the early twentieth century through the 1970s. I found even more historic images at the Rutherford County Archives. Larger repositories, like the Tennessee State Library and Archives and the Library of Congress, provided me with the final historic and representational images I needed for the exhibition.

Downtown Smyrna, ca. 1930s.

Downtown Smyrna, ca. 1930s.

Each picture tells a story, but all of them together tell a novel about the town of Smyrna and its people as they evolved together during the twentieth century. By looking at the images you can see the railroad’s vital role as the town’s commercial and social lifeline. Conversely, the images also show early automobiles parked on muddy roads, foreshadowing the demise of the railroad and the eventual construction of the Nissan plant. The early pictures of Sky Harbor Airport, with biplanes and runways in the middle of fields, provide a great comparison to the more modern Sewart Air Force Base, with its fleet of massive C-130 planes and campus of asphalt and barracks.

Comparison of Sky Harbor Airport (1923), left, and Sewart Air Force Base (1960), right.

Comparison of Sky Harbor Airport (1923), left, and Sewart Air Force Base (1960), right.

Images also show how the very buildings that lined Front and Lowry streets changed with the needs of the people. I became infatuated with comparing images from various decades, trying to decipher which buildings had been torn down, which had changed, and when these changes had taken place. It was interesting to note that it was when passenger train service ended in 1971, and the Smyrna depot ceased serving as a gathering place, that most of these changes happened in the historic downtown area. The growing networks of highways naturally drove commerce away from downtown Smyrna over to I-24 and along Sam Ridley Parkway.

The rehabilitation of the Smyrna Depot is part of a larger effort to revitalize Smyrna’s downtown as a bevy of social and economic activity for locals and tourists. I previously wrote about how Smyrna’s citizens should be lauded for their commitment to preserving their railroad heritage. After working on this project, however, this commendation should be extended to the city’s foresight in using its history to enhance its future. So, for the sake of future historians and preservationists, keep taking pictures.

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Antiques, Arts of the Backcountry, and Amanda! Oh My!

By Amanda Barry, CHP Graduate Research Assistant

After arriving at Colonial Williamsburg, Dr. West gave me a quick tour of the grounds. The wintry white snow and brilliant blue sky made for a great photograph of the Governor’s Palace.

After arriving at Colonial Williamsburg, Dr. West gave me a quick tour of the grounds. The wintry white snow and brilliant blue sky made for a great photograph of the Governor’s Palace.

In February, I was privileged to receive a scholarship to the 67th Annual Antiques Forum at Colonial Williamsburg. Not only did this scholarship pay for conference registration and a stay at the Williamsburg Lodge, it also allowed me to further the study of material culture that I have been pursuing at MTSU. The theme for this year’s forum was “New Findings in the Arts of the Southern Backcountry.” Much to attendees’ delight, this constituted a new horizon for the Antiques Forum and Colonial Williamsburg, promising a week filled with fascinating presentations and animated dialogue.

The conference was exciting for many reasons. Chief among these was having an opportunity to learn from distinguished lecturers (and to enjoy the daily afternoon tea). Least among these was the night the Williamsburg Lodge fire alarm triggered and sent bleary-eyed professionals out into the bitter cold (trying to avoid eye contact as we stood around impatiently in our pajamas). Nevertheless, many professionals and collectors gave riveting presentations. Dale L. Couch (curator, decorative arts, Henry D. Green Center for the Study of Decorative Arts at the Georgia Museum of Art) spoke about the fluidity of Chesapeake culture in his lecture, “Georgia Fever: Chesapeake Culture Goes Southward.” Andrew Richmond (auctioneer and appraiser, Garth’s Auction, Sunbury, Ohio) gave an insightful talk on vine-inlaid furniture entitled “A Meandering Journey: Vine-Inlaid Furniture from Here, There, and Everywhere.” His presentation led to my furious (and terrible) sketching of vine inlays from furniture in several states.

Some of my notes and terrible sketches (note the hurried slashes through a mistake) from Andrew Richmond’s presentation, “A Meandering Journey: Vine-Inlaid Furniture from Here, There, and Everywhere.”

Some of my notes and terrible sketches (note the hurried slashes through a mistake) from Andrew Richmond’s presentation, “A Meandering Journey: Vine-Inlaid Furniture from Here, There, and Everywhere.”

The Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts at Old Salem (MESDA) was also well represented with talks from Robert A. Leath (vice president, collections and research, and chief curator), Sally Gant (director, education and special programs), and Johanna M. Brown (curator, Moravian decorative arts, Old Salem Museums and Gardens). We also heard from private collectors, like Thomas and Nancy Sears, Jr., and David and Janice Miller, who, through their presentations, opened the doors to their homes so we could see, respectively, “A Piedmont North Carolina Collection and the Walls that Surround It” and “What Sherman Missed: A Georgia Collection.” Their passion for material culture and their generosity in sharing it with the audience and various institutions across the South were a pleasure to witness.

Among the highlights of the conference was seeing Center for Historic Preservation director, Tennessee state historian, my boss, and my thesis advisor, Dr. Carroll Van West, in action. As the Chipstone Guest Lecturer, he provided synthesis and clarity to the wealth of scholarship presented before conference attendees. He reminded everyone of what we in Tennessee already knew: backcountry does not always beget backwards. How, then, can we use material culture and object-centered studies to aid our work with communities? Objects and artifacts are among the integral pieces used to foster a dialogue about the past: What is it? Who made it? Who was it for? What was its purpose? These questions and their various answers all contribute to a greater understanding of family, community, state, and even nation. I realized that if I can have a greater understanding of these things, I can better serve the communities I work with.

I thoroughly enjoyed my first trip to Colonial Williamsburg (despite the most snow the Revolutionary village had seen in many years) and the adjacent campus of the College of William and Mary (Go Tribe!). I am thankful to Janine Skerry (curator of metals, Colonial Williamsburg) and her husband, Ed Moreno, for opening up their home, The Blue Bell, to the scholarship recipients and feeding us wonderful quiche. I am thankful, indebted really, to Dr. West, who drove every mile to and from Virginia. Most of all, I am thankful to everyone who engaged in conversation with this wide-eyed young scholar and endured a barrage of questions, during my first, and hopefully not my last, Colonial Williamsburg Antiques Forum.

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Historic Orange Mound: Celebrating 125 Years of Community Pride

By Denise Gallagher, CHP Graduate Research Assistant

Orange Mound is one of Memphis’s oldest and best-known African American neighborhoods. For the past few semesters, the Center for Historic Preservation (CHP) has been working with the Orange Mound community to document historic landmarks as part of the neighborhood’s upcoming 125th anniversary celebration. The CHP’s work has highlighted eight historic churches but has also included multiple schools, a day nursery, a park, and a cemetery. Over the course of several visits, CHP students and staff have met quite a few community leaders, including Ms. Mary Mitchell and Ms. Tiana Pyles, who have shared their vision of the past, present, and future of Orange Mound. The CHP is producing a printed driving tour of community landmarks in conjunction with the 125th anniversary celebration scheduled for May 2, 2015.

Lifetime Orange Mound residents Ms. Mary Mitchell and Mr. Tyler Glover share stories with CHP students at Beulah Baptist Church.

Long-time residents sometimes refer to Orange Mound as the largest historically black community in the United States other than Harlem, New York. The statement’s accuracy is less important than its reflection of Orange Mound’s pride as a community intended for and, most importantly, built by African Americans. Unlike Harlem, which was initially settled by Jewish and Italian immigrants, who then moved on to other parts of New York, Orange Mound was developed specifically as a residential suburb for African Americans. However, like Harlem, Orange Mound grew to be a large, self-contained, thriving urban black community that fostered upward mobility.

When Orange Mound was founded in the late 1880s, Memphis city boosters were pushing to increase the population after the devastating effects of the 1878 yellow fever epidemic, which collapsed the tax base and bankrupted the city. Elzey Eugene Meacham, a white land speculator from Memphis, recognized the emerging market of African Americans who wanted to own their own homes. At the time, Shelby County had a total population of 112,000 people, of which half were African American.

In 1889, Meacham purchased a sixty-acre section of the Deaderick Plantation, located five miles from the city center. He named the subdivision Orange Mound after the row of Osage orange trees that grew near the plantation house. The rural subdivision was organized as a grid and contained more than 900 narrow lots measuring 25 feet by 104 feet, which were sold for as little as $40. The small “shotgun” lots provided maximum profit for the developer, while also offering affordability to new residents.

Historic shotgun-style dwelling built in 1912.

Historic shotgun-style dwelling built in 1912.

During the early 1900s, a great wave of African Americans migrated to Memphis, overcrowding the inner-city and fueling Orange Mound’s expansion. Because African Americans were systematically excluded from equal participation in Memphis’s economic and political development, they sought to create their own institutions in communities like Orange Mound. In the recent ethnography titled African American Life and Culture in Orange Mound (2013), Charles Williams describes the community as “a web of complex and enduring relationships based on kinship, friendship, church membership, business partnership, employment in community schools and businesses, and participation in mutual aid societies and voluntary associations….” (p. 24). Williams emphasizes that the lower, middle, and elite classes shared a bond through common religious values and a spirit of racial pride and uplift.

Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, Orange Mound continued to prosper despite the limitations created by Jim Crow laws. An economic boom after World War I caused unemployment to be low and wages high across the city. In 1919, Orange Mound was annexed by the city of Memphis, along with several other independent communities.

The prosperity of the 1920s can be observed in the building patterns of Orange Mound’s historic churches. The two oldest congregations, Mt. Moriah Baptist Church and Mt. Pisgah Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, constructed new buildings in 1925 and 1929, respectively, that continue to be impressive community landmarks today. The churches are located on main thoroughfares near the commercial districts of Carnes and Park avenues.

Two other historic churches, Greater New Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church and New Era Missionary Baptist Church, constructed buildings in 1924 and 1925, respectively. The two churches are located a few blocks from each other on residential streets. Both churches expanded laterally with impressive new sanctuaries that complement the original structures. At some point, lots across from the churches were purchased and turned into parking lots to accommodate the growing congregations. The adaptive reuse of the old sanctuaries as multi-purpose fellowship halls was practical but is also likely indicative of Orange Mound residents’ reverence for the past.

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As the dates of the church expansions indicate, Orange Mound continued to grow in the decades after World War II; however, by then many social and political changes were underway that would greatly alter the community. In 1954, the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision set into motion a new relationship between blacks and whites that led to the Civil Rights Movement and increased racial equality, while at the same time undermining many of the sacred institutions in segregated communities like Orange Mound.

In the last half of the twentieth century, long-time Orange Mound residents struggled to maintain the strong community bonds that had shaped their collective identities. Although many of the residential and commercial structures have suffered from physical deterioration and blight, many of the foundational institutional buildings remain. In addition to historic churches, the community has remarkably preserved a gigantic reminder of Orange Mound’s celebrated past—the New Deal-built Melrose School, completed in 1938.

Melrose School opened in 1938 and featured 79 classrooms, a library, science labs, a music room, a shop building, and an auditorium.

Melrose School opened in 1938 and featured 79 classrooms, a library, science labs, a music room, a shop building, and an auditorium.

In the wake of school desegregation, the city opened a new Melrose High School a few blocks away in 1972. The historic Melrose School closed in 1979. In recent years, the looming historic complex has been threatened with demolition, but the community refuses to let it go. Alumni hope to see the building renovated and repurposed in order to once again serve the needs of the community. No other institution more fully unites and excites the community than the original Melrose High School, with its proud legacy.

Today, the campus of Melrose has evolved to include the boarded-up historic high school, a playground, the Orange Mound Community Center, and the Orange Mound Health Center.

Today, the campus of Melrose has evolved to include the boarded-up historic high school, a playground, the Orange Mound Community Center, and the Orange Mound Health Center.

On Saturday, May 2nd, Orange Mound kicks off its 125th anniversary celebration with a ceremony that will include many guest speakers and a procession of respected matriarchs and patriarchs escorted by the community’s youngest generation. The idea that the past can inform the present is deeply felt by the elder generation, which wishes not only to recognize Orange Mound’s rich history, but also to inspire the neighborhood’s youth. At the CHP’s most recent visit, the planning committee explained that the purpose of the celebration is to honor Orange Mound’s past achievements and to attract much-needed public and private resources back to the community.

What: Official Kick-Off Celebration for Orange Mound’s 125th Anniversary

Where: Melrose High School Auditorium, 2870 Deadrick Ave, Memphis, TN 38114

When: May 2, 2015, 12:00 PM

See Also:

Charles Williams, African American Life and Culture in Orange Mound: Case Study of a Black Community in Memphis, Tennessee, 1890–1980 (Lexington Books, 2013).

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Real-Life Applications: Using Primary Sources to Teach Math

By Brittany Wickham Walker, CHP Graduate Research Assistant

I recently had the opportunity to present at a workshop with my colleagues from Teaching with Primary Sources–MTSU. The workshop, “Using Primary Sources to Teach Math,” focused on grades 4 through 7. This was an exciting opportunity for me, not only because I was able to facilitate conversations about teaching math, but because four of my math lesson plans were distributed to the teachers and used to demonstrate how primary sources can be used in the math classroom (see Measurement Using Architectural Drawings, Calculating Perimeter and Area Using Architectural Drawings, Calculating Volume Using Architectural Drawings, and Geometry and Volume).

Math teachers hard at work finding the area and perimeter of a building.

Math teachers hard at work finding the area and perimeter of a building.

While writing these lesson plans, I found that the Library of Congress Web site offers far more resources for social studies and language arts topics than for math. Luckily, the Web site also has an incredibly rich collection of architectural elevations, photographs, and floor plans. Known as “HABS,” the Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey is a collection of resources documenting more than 38,000 buildings since 1933. Although I used this resource almost daily while pursuing my M.S. in Historic Preservation at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I never thought of incorporating the drawings and photographs into lesson plans. Luckily, Dr. Stacey Graham and Kira Duke were able to show me how HABS had been used in other lesson plans.

The math workshop was beneficial not only to the teachers who attended, but to me as well. The educators had great ideas for lesson plans to incorporate primary sources in their classrooms, which I plan to flesh out into unit plans or stand-alone sessions.

The entire group of teachers solving math problems without a calculator.

The entire group of teachers solving math problems without a calculator.

Why do we need to have primary sources in the math classroom? Why not just leave these resources for social studies or language arts teachers? Based on my past experience working with Teach For America as a middle school math teacher, I see now that using primary sources would have completely changed the way my students learned and how they connected math to real-life applications. Using primary sources helps answer a question that every math teacher dreads to hear: “But when are we EVER going to USE this?” Browsing through the HABS database can show students how math and architecture go hand in hand. Some students may not be convinced and challenge this with, “But I don’t WANT to be an architect.” At this point, just remind them that they’ll want to design their own dream house when they’re rich and famous. That usually gets the point across.

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Witness Houses and Council Grounds: Tracing the Trail of Tears in Tennessee

By Jenna Stout, CHP Graduate Research Assistant

The Center for Historic Preservation (CHP) is involved extensively in projects throughout the Southeast. One particular program at the CHP focuses on documenting and interpreting the Trail of Tears. Working with a number of partners, the CHP has developed interpretive trail markers, brochures, and exhibits on the Cherokee and key sites along the Trail of Tears.

When I first joined the CHP as a graduate assistant in the fall of 2013, I spent a semester conducting chain-of-title deed research on a series of houses. Located on Red Oak Road in Lincoln County, Tennessee, the houses sit along the Bell Route, one of the routes taken by the Cherokee during their forced removal to the West in 1838. Preliminary fieldwork had identified several houses on Red Oak Road that might predate the Trail of Tears. The next step was for me to trace the deeds of the properties to find evidence that the structures did indeed exist at the time of Cherokee removal. If so, the houses bore witness to one of the great travesties in nineteenth-century American history and remain a significant part of the Trail of Tears cultural landscape.

Researching deed histories at the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) proved to be both a rewarding and frustrating experience. Looking through countless rolls of microfilm, I gradually grew acclimated to the typeface of past registers. For three of the Red Oak Road houses, I traced the deed titles back to the early twentieth century. Unfortunately, with each property, I eventually encountered a dead end in which the deed history grew murky.

This deed from November 9, 1911, transferred ownership of 189 Red Oak Road in Lincoln County from M.E. Whitaker and wife to C.E. Clark. Courtesy of TSLA.

This deed from November 9, 1911, transferred ownership of 189 Red Oak Road in Lincoln County from M.E. Whitaker and wife to C.E. Clark. Courtesy of TSLA.

Along with researching the deeds, consulting census records and inventories of estates helped me formulate some idea of the families and their possessions. The house standing at 189 Red Oak Road, for example, had a deed history that traced back to the Whitakers, a prominent family that had settled in the area in the early 1800s. While the earliest located deed for the property only dated back to 1911, county histories and records suggested that the Whitaker family had held the original land deed, which predated the Trail of Tears. A description of the “old M.E. Whitaker dwelling” in the deeds was the only mention of a house. Ultimately, I was unable to pinpoint the construction date of the dwelling, and no other documentary evidence pointed to it being a witness house. Although my research culminated inconclusively, we have successfully identified other witness houses in multiple states in an ongoing effort to identify historic buildings associated with the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail in partnership with the National Trails Intermountain Region of the National Park Service.

Potential witness house, located at 189 Red Oak Road, Lincoln County, TN.

Potential witness house, located at 189 Red Oak Road, Lincoln County, TN.

At the beginning of this academic year, I found myself working on a different type of Cherokee history project: an exhibition at Red Clay State Historic Park in Cleveland, Tennessee. Nestled in the southeast corner of Tennessee, Red Clay served as the capital of the Cherokee government from 1832 until removal in 1838. It was at Red Clay that the last council meetings were held. Today, Red Clay State Historic Park preserves and interprets the historical significance of the grounds in Cherokee history. The visitor center houses a museum with permanent exhibits from the 1970s that will now be updated with new scholarship.

The current exhibits at Red Clay date to the 1970s.

The current exhibits at Red Clay date to the 1970s.

Last November, I accompanied a group of CHP staff members to the park to meet with rangers and look at the current museum interpretation. The park is off the beaten trail, accessible by a series of curving country roads. School groups are the bread and butter of the park’s visitation, so it was no surprise to see dozens of children. Once inside, it was evident that the exhibits contained solid information that could benefit from new scholarship and an updated presentation.

The CHP was asked to revamp the Cherokee government and politics section of the exhibition. Alongside Amy Kostine, the CHP’s Trail of Tears project historian, and Sherry Teal, a CHP volunteer, I have spent the last few months developing panels that place Red Clay within the larger story of Cherokee government, politics, and removal. After months of research, panel-writing, and editing, we are nearing the final phases of the project. Before installation, the walls of the visitor center will be painted in a more neutral palate. The updated exhibition will provide a much-needed facelift to the museum and is set to open late this summer.

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“We Shall Overcome”—The Music of the Movement

By Ethan Morris, CHP Graduate Research Assistant

Over the past two months, I have started to realize the limitless possibilities of the Tennessee Social Studies Standards. The standards cover many aspects of American history. If time were not an issue, a Tennessee teacher could cover almost any American history topic imaginable. As a graduate assistant with Teaching with Primary Sources-MTSU, I have the time and opportunity to design lesson plans about both Tennessee’s little-known history and America’s major historical events.

I have recently been working on a lesson plan that explores the connection between the music of labor advocacy and the songs of civil rights activism. The lesson plan looks at the role of the Highlander Folk School, now the Highlander Research and Education Center, in New Market, Tennessee, in bringing labor and civil rights activists and musicians together.

Pete Seeger, half-length portrait, singing while playing banjo [1955]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Pete Seeger, half-length portrait, singing while playing banjo [1955]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

For the first segment of the lesson plan, students examine the music of Pete Seeger and Paul Robeson. The students look at Seeger’s “Which Side Are You On,” written by Florence Reece about the Harlan County, Kentucky, coal strikes, and Robeson’s rendition of “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night,” a song that details the life and legacy of International Workers of the World activist Joe Hill. Students then research the songs and their subjects to see which facts are left out of the lyrics, analyze the lyrics for bias, and examine the effect of the songs on American audiences.

After the students have sampled the music of Robeson and Seeger, they listen to an oral history interview with Seeger, archived at the Library of Congress, as he talked about his activism, the Peekskill Riots of 1949 (an anti-communist riot in Peekskill, New York, in protest against a Paul Robeson concert), and the song “We Shall Overcome.” Seeger initially heard the song from Zilphia Horton, the wife of Myles Horton, the director of the Highlander Folk Center. Zilphia had learned about the song from South Carolina tobacco workers who were on strike. With a few rhythmic changes, Seeger, Guy Carawan, and Frank Hamilton helped popularize the song.  Eventually, Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and Ralph Abernathy would hear Seeger sing the song at a workshop at Highlander in 1957. As Seeger remembered it, activist Anne Braden told him that King had remarked to her, “that song really sticks with you doesn’t it.”

; The Moving Hall Star Singers including Benjamin Bligen (third from left) with Guy Carawan (far right) at the Sing for Freedom Festival and Workshop, 1965. Alan Lomax Collection (AFC 2004/004)  [1965] (Event sponsored by Highlander). Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The Moving Hall Star Singers, including Benjamin Bligen (third from left), with Guy Carawan (far right) at the Sing for Freedom Festival and Workshop, 1965. Alan Lomax Collection (AFC 2004/004). (The event was sponsored by Highlander). Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Over the years, “We Shall Overcome” has become famous and permanently connected to the 1960s portion of the civil rights movement. The final part of the lesson plan looks at the song’s ongoing relevance by having students analyze the recent fast food strikes to see that the songs, phrases, and tactics of civil rights activism are still connected to labor advocacy. “We Shall Overcome” is as potent today as it was in 1957.

The range of topics found in the Tennessee Social Studies Standards and the enormous collection of oral histories, songs, and photographs available online from the Library of Congress make lesson plans on subjects such as “We Shall Overcome” possible. To see the complete lesson plan, follow this link to the Teaching with Primary Sources-MTSU Web site. Also, make sure to explore the Library of Congress Web site for more stories and surprises of your own.

See Also:

AFL-CIO, “Joe Hill (1879-1915),” aflcio.org/About/Our-History/Key-People-in-Labor-History/Joe-Hill-1879-1915 (accessed March 20, 2015).

Highlander Research and Education Center, “Timeline,” highlandercenter.org/media/timeline (accessed March 20, 2015).

People’s World, “Today in Labor History: Remembering Florence Reece,”(last modified August 3, 2012), peoplesworld.org/today-in-labor-history-remembering-florence-reece/(accessed March 20, 2015).

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