At the end of the forum, Holmes, Freeman, Ralph Moore Lawrence Curry, Virgil Robinson and Booker Scruggs left the audience with a few suggestions, most of them aimed at my generation because we will be the ones to raise fresh new minds in the coming years. We have a responsibility to educate children, because an appreciation for history and culture must be ingrained in young minds at an early age.
Young people’s declining respect for adults was also mentioned, noting they know how to make babies, but not how to raise families. That timeless refrain is well known even to the young, but it was the next comment that surprised me: “We had communication. The same community. The young people don’t know how to really talk to each other.” It’s true. With so much digital communication, young people don’t organize face to face as often. “We want young people to take advantage of life and recognize the struggles of the past. Then we would appreciate them more,” another man added.
I have to wonder why black history stories like these aren’t taught more frequently in schools, especially at the elementary- and middle-school level. Classrooms have long since been integrated, so why does the material in history books remain segregated and pushed into a few programs in February?
This question left me looking for answers, and I wanted to know more about black history—and not merely the post 1950 events. Luckily, the Chattanooga History Center would provide me with the next level of understanding this vibrant part of Chattanooga’s history.
“We Shall Not Be Moved” gave me personal narratives to connect with and remember. Anyone who claims Chattanooga (or even simply the South) as their home will walk away from this exhibit feeling like they have a deeper understanding of black history, but that’s not all. Visitors get to know the men and women who “didn’t know about courage, might have been crazy,” and took a leap of faith to make a change not just for themselves, but also for the entire city and its future people.
The Chattanooga History Center, set to open in the fall of this year on Broad Street in front of the Tennessee Aquarium, is hosting a series of gallery talks intended to be a preview for each of the historical periods covered in the museum’s exhibits. “Imbued with the Spirit of Freedom” was the theme for a Jan. 29 discussion, and the story of how our modern city was established will fascinate locals and tourists alike.
When the words “civil rights” are mentioned, one’s immediate thoughts turn to Martin Luther King Jr., segregated water fountains, bus rides and the 1950s and ’60s. All these images were a powerful force in closing the racial inequality gap, but the foundations of the Civil Rights Movement were laid much earlier than history textbooks suggest.
Union strongholds in the Deep South during the Civil War were few and far between, with Chattanooga being the deepest, taken at the Battle of Chickamauga in Sept. 1863. After the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in the Confederate states, the 13th Amendment outlawed slavery altogether. Many decided to escape plantations for a northern or Union-occupied city. Chattanooga was the closet city to many of these newly freed men and women, and after arriving, they settled near the river into a community nicknamed Camp Contraband. Over time, they created a thriving economy and maintained political power as alderman of different wards of the city.
This particular exhibit spans 1850 to about 1910 and features a creatively placed window that looks out over the area on the riverbank that used to be Camp Contraband. Of all the major eras covered in the new museum, this is probably the story least told. A gallery focusing on the Industrial Revolution in Chattanooga follows, without overshadowing, and allows visitors to first understand how Chattanooga became a spot where industrialization could flourish.