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African Americans in Tennessee (Special Collections)

This guide highlights primary sources and research materials in Special Collections related to the African American experience in East Tennessee from the late 18th century to present day.

Manuscript and Archive Collections

Civil Rights Collection, 1934-1970 (MS.0334)
This collection brings together papers and publications from individuals and organizations as well as over fifty hours of taped interviews with civil rights participants. Individuals include Charles Haynie, Buford Posey, Sidney Redmond, Walter and Elizabeth Rogers, and Claude Williams among others. Organizations include ACLU, CORE, SCEF, SRC, and several others. The collection includes a wealth of pamphlets, organized by topic, and newsletters, organized by title. Documents from several court cases can be found in Sidney Redmond's papers and Claude Williams' papers as well as in the Legal Papers folders. Of particular interest may be the manuscripts and accompanying papers for Dorothy Swisshelm's book, Six years Behind the Magnolia Curtain.

Byron de la Beckwith Correspondence, Photographs, and Other Materials, 1940-1992 (MS.3439)
This collection consists primarily of letters that Byron de le Beckwith wrote to his wife, Mary Louise (Williams) Beckwith; his son, Byron de la Beckwith, Jr.; and his brother and sister-in-law, Jesse and Frances Williams while he was incarcerated before and during his first trial for the murder of NAACP leader Medgar Evers. Another set of correspondence was written between Beckwith and his nephew, B. Reed Massengill, while Massengill was working on a book chronicling Beckwith's life. Also included are photographs (some of which were published in Massengill's Portrait of a Racist) showing Beckwith and his family.

June N. Adamson Papers, bulk 1943-2003 (MS.2739)
Correspondence, research and teaching files, student work, articles, newspaper clippings, notes, and manuscripts documenting June N. Adamson's life and work as a newspaper reporter, student, and University of Tennessee Professor of Journalism. Included is research related to Adamson's book, The Lit Stick of Dynamite, which document the desegregation of Clinton High School in 1956 and its bombing in 1958.

Carl and Anne Braden Papers, 1947-1967 (MS.0425)
This collection of approximately 4,700 items documents the work of Carl and Anne Braden, civil rights workers with the Southern Conference Education Fund (SCEF). The material covers their work in the civil rights program throughout America from 1947 to 1967.

James Earl Ray Papers, 1968-1998 (MS.3147)
This collection houses letters, news clippings, official papers, and other items documenting James Earl Ray's life between the Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination in 1968 and Ray's death in 1998. They concern his attempts to prove his innocence as well as his life in prison.

Alex Haley Research Regarding Tennessee Anecdotal History, circa 1986-circa 1996 (AR.0420)
Alex Haley, Anne, Klebenow, and a number of student researchers collected these anecdotes about Tennessee history during their work on 200 Years through 200 Stories: A Tennessee Bicentennial Collection (1996). Among the topics covered are the Bell Witch, the beginning of the Ku Klux Klan, the Scopes Trial, and the Civil War.

Rare Books

Marion Barry, Jerry Porter, and Avon Rollins at the Bijou Theatre stand-in.
Marion Barry, Jerry Porter, and Avon Rollins at the Bijou Theatre stand-in. Photograph from Volunteer Voices Digital Collections

The Wall Between. 1958 (F459.L8B7 1959)

Diary of a Sit-In. 1962 (E185.61 .P76)

White and Black Inequality in Urban Appalachia: The Case of Knoxville, Tennessee. 1981 (E185.615 .S715)

Sing for Freedom: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement Through its Songs. 1990 (M1977.C47 S56 1990)

I Am a Man: Photographs of the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Strike and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 1993 (HD5325.S2572 1968 .M46 1993)

Speak Now Against the Day: The Generation Before the Civil Rights Movement in the South. 1995 (E185.61 .E28 1995b)

A Godsend to his People: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Marshall Keeble. 2008 (BX7077 .Z6 K44 2008)


portrait of Theotis Robinson.
Theotis Robinson, one of the first African American students to attend UT. Photograph from Office of the University Historian Collection (AR.0015)

A Study of Student Attitudes Regarding Desegregation in Selected School Systems in Tennessee. 1972 (Thesis72b.H244)

Resistance to School Desegregation in Knoxville, Tennessee: A Descriptive History and an Analysis of the Attitudes of Black Residents. 1973 (Thesis73.D852)

The Desegregation of Clinton High School: Then and Now. 1995 (Thesis95.H473)

Desegregation in Knoxville, Tennessee: A Case. 1999 (Thesis 99b .H388)

The Fruits of Judicial Decision: An Analysis of Geier v. Sundquist. 2001 (Thesis 2001b .N64)

The Pursuit of Community Journalism in a Segregated Tennessee Town, 1949-1969: Richard Smyser and the Alfred Hill Family. 2007 (Thesis 2007b .D47)

To Be True to Ourselves: Freedpeople, School Building, and Community Politics in Appalachian Tennessee, 1865-1870. 2009 (Electronic Thesis/Dissertation)