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By Jennifer Crutchfield
Nearly 88 percent of Americans will eat close to 46 million turkeys on Thanksgiving this year, and as our country gives thanks, Chattanoogans will celebrate, donate and remember. The Tennessee Valley was a wilderness in 1621 when the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag Indians shared the three-day autumn harvest feast acknowledged as the first Thanksgiving celebration. Chattanooga families will gather, walk, donate, volunteer and serve during this holiday, finding inspiration in each other, their families and their community.
Americans have always been thankful. Finding freedom and safely on foreign shores infused those new Americans with a gratitude that is unique and that perseveres. Canada, Japan, Germany, Liberians and the Netherlands also celebrate a Thanksgiving holiday but the American celebration is one of a kind. The Continental Congress issued Thanksgiving Proclamations as early as 1777 celebrating victories at the Battle of Saratoga, and newly elected President George Washington was the first president to proclaim a day of thanksgiving honoring the success of the Revolutionary War.
Sarah Josepha was born at the close of the Revolutionary War in New Hampshire and had a lifelong obsession with Thanksgiving. She was feminine, gracious—and inexorable. As a young widow with five small children in 1828, she became editor of the first magazine by women for women, is often credited with the famous poem “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and fought for property rights, educational equality and employment opportunities for women.
For more than 40 years Sarah applied to elected officials to create a national day of Thanksgiving, a day when all Americans would come together as one to give thanks for the blessings, freedoms and bounty of our country, our land and our families. On October 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a presidential proclamation that set aside the last Thursday of November to be celebrated as “A Day of Thanksgiving and Praise.” That tradition has continued for 150 years.
Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, delivered just a few days before the anticipated national Thanksgiving Day, would use American freedom and sacrifice to embolden the Union cause with some of the most stirring words ever spoken. Today, a national initiative challenges Americans to share his momentous words and to record yourself reciting one of the most important declarations ever made. Visit www.learntheaddress.org to watch Presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and George Bush join Martha Stewart, Stephen Colbert and others as they recite a speech proclaimed as the two most powerful minutes in American history.
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal...
Chattanooga was a city besieged by war during this first national Thanksgiving—but a spirit of thanks, gratitude and acceptance were already vibrant in this city. Thomas McCallie had come to Chattanooga, bringing commerce, faith and a love of education and family. His son, T.H. McCallie, carried that into his congregation during the Civil War, his pews shared by the faithful on both sides of the devastating war. Union and Confederate soldiers were all welcomed by this passionate minister, His church, home and family all became centers of faith, education and equality.
Chattanooga’s history of thankfulness and charity are deeply rooted in the city’s legacy. The Scenic City has been known for having the most charitable wealth of any city in Tennessee and has a spirit of generosity rooted in the long-term gains generated from post-war business and industry. Coca Cola, Provident Insurance and Chattem grew in Chattanooga as they served America and built a culture of giving, their philanthropy changing the city’s skyline and improving quality of life for the residents. The size of Chattanooga’s private philanthropic foundations continue to dwarf others, and the city has a greater per capita foundation income than most of the country.
Improvements in health, education, religion, social services, recreation and the arts can all be traced to these families, foundations and their commitment to thankfulness and gratitude. Local PBS station WTCI-TV has partnered with the Chattanooga History Center to honor the heritage of change and innovation in the city, producing and airing the “History Makers” series that has celebrated the Siskin Brothers, Chattanooga Venture, Ruth Holmberg, the Brock Family, the Lyndhurst Foundation, Dalton Roberts, the Dismembered Tennesseans and the Howard Class of 1960. On Thanksgiving, WTCI will air “History Makers 2013: The Heritage of the McCallie Family” at 8 p.m,.
Helen Pregulman, one of Garrison Siskin’s children, reflects on “righteousness” as a part of the tradition of Judaism that is a justification for being here and which was “instilled in our family as a part of everyday life.” Many of Chattanooga’s early families shared this principle of philanthropy and it has guided a spirit of change since the city’s early days. When the Memorial Auditorium was built, there were annual thankful sings, events where Chattanoogans came together to celebrate being thankful, collect goods for the needy and raise their voices and souls in a spirit of gratitude that swelled the hearts of the community and provided sustenance to those in need.
Thanksgiving morning begins for many Chattanooga families with walking, giving and serving. The Turkey Trot to benefit the Kidney Foundation and the Grateful Gobbler to benefit the Chattanooga Area Homeless Coalition bring families, organizations and businesses together to walk to increase awareness and raise funds to support those programs. The Coalition currently covers 11 counties: Bledsoe, Bradley, Grundy, Hamilton, Franklin, Marion, McMinn, Meigs, Polk, Rhea and Sequatchie, and 100 percent of event funds support that work.
Pete Cooper, Chair of the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, says, “Chattanooga is an amazing center for philanthropy. We seem to understand that we are dependent on each other. For the best interest of the community some people can give money, some can give time, some can give leadership, some can give hope. We can all give something. And it is in the fabric of this community to do just that, neighbor helping neighbor in large and small ways. We are all blessed to live in such a place.”