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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.

Antebellum Era

Illustration of Reverend William H. Franklin

Rev. William H. Franklin, former slave and first black graduate of Maryville College. Photograph from Volunteer Voices Digital Collection, provided by the Beck Cultural Exchange Center.

Manuscript Resources

Petition to Abolish Slavery, undated (MS.1204)​

This petition asks the Tennessee Legislature to pass a law that will free the state's enslaved peoples and their descendants. The petition is signed by 75 residents of Bedford County, Tennessee.

Washington County Emancipation and Appearance Bonds, 1786-1804 (MS.0152)

This collection houses four bonds issued in what is now Washington County, Tennessee. The first bond, issued by the short-lived State of Franklin, ensures that William Moore will appear to answer charges that John Waddle has brought against him regarding a debt of fifty pounds. The remaining bonds free four slaves belonging to William Nodding and five slaves belonging to William Calvert.

Solomon Porter Petition, circa 1844 (MS.3330)

This petition to the County Court of Shelby County, Tennessee was prepared by an unknown lawyer on behalf of a free man of color named Solomon Porter. Porter, a native of Tennessee, assures the court that he desires to seek employment in Shelby County in order to adequately support his family.

Rare Books

Speech of Mr. A.V. Brown, of Tennessee, Against Receiving, Referring, or Reporting on Abolition Petitions. Delivered in the House of Representatives of the United States, January 10, 1844. 1844 (E449 .B76 1844)

A Sermon on Slavery; A Vindication of the Methodist Church, South: Her Position Stated. Delivered in Temperance Hall, in Knoxville, on Sabbath, August 9th, 1857, to the Delegates and Others in Attendance at the Southern Commercial Convention. 1857 (E449 .B8851)

Elihu Embree, Abolitionist. 1897 (F206 .V22 no. 2-4)

Jim Baker. A Thrilling Episode of Ante-bellum Days. A True Story of the Oppressed Race Among Friends and Foes. 1898 (E450 .B35 A33 1898)

The Negro in Tennessee, 1790-1865. 1922 (E445.T3 P2)

Slave Schedules for Hardin County, Tennessee, 1850 & 1860. 1992 (F443.H3 B846 1992)

An Abolitionist in the Appalachian South: Ezekiel Birdseye on Slavery, Capitalism, and Separate Statehood in East Tennessee, 1841-1846. 1997 (E445.T3 B57 1997)


The Tennessee Churches and Slavery, with Special Reference to East Tennessee. 1924 (Thesis.O75)

The Attitude of Members of Congress from Tennessee on the Slavery Question, 1820-1858. 1931 (Thesis.W365)

Civil War Era

Illustration of the Battle of Fort Pillow during the Civil War.

Depiction of Confederate soldiers against an African American infantry at the massacre of Fort Pillow in Henning, TN. Photograph from Volunteer Voices Digital Collection, provided by the Memphis Public Library.

Manuscript Resources 

Robert Hatton Speech, 1861 (MS.2718)

This collection consists of an eight-page reprint of a speech that Robert Hopkins Hatton gave in the U. S. House of Representatives on February 8, 1861. It documents Hatton's opinion that secession from the United States would cause our fair land [to be] scourged and blighted as by the hand of an angry God. Among the methods Hatton proposes to avert war are repealing personal liberty laws, amending the U. S. Constitution to prohibit the abolition of slavery, and resolving the question of whether or not slavery will be legal in newly acquired territories.

Bureau for Colored Troops Muster Roll, 1863-1866 (MS.3335)

This ledger, entitled Register of Muster-In and Muster-Out of U. S. Colored Troops During the Rebellion of 1861, contains muster-in records for Batteries A, B, C, D, F, G, H, I, K, and L of the 1st Battalion of the 3rd Heavy Artillery and muster-out records for Battery A. Batteries A, B, C, D, G, I, K, and M mustered in at Memphis, Tennessee, while Batteries F, H, and L mustered in at Fort Pickering, Tennessee. All of the musters-in took place in 1863, and Battery A mustered out in Memphis in 1865 (although the official report was not completed until 1866). The ledger itself is an elephant folio with leather corners and tooled leather accents.

Memphis Freedmen's Bureau Report, 1864 (MS.3240)

This collection consists of a four-page report detailing events in the Memphis, Tennessee district of the Freedmen's Bureau during the month of May 1864. The writer, Captain T. A. Walker of the 63rd Infantry Regiment (Colored Troops), describes the city of Memphis (particularly its schools) as well as the contraband camps of Holly Springs, Shiloh, and President's Island.

William R. Story Letter, 1865 (MS.1136)

In this letter, Captain William R. Story of the 1st U. S. Colored Artillery (heavy) writes to John J. King on behalf of a soldier under his command named Tecumsey whose wife, formerly one of King's slaves, is still living in King's home. The soldier would like her to be able to remain in the house, and Story assures King that the man earns a reasonable wage and will be good for any small amount of a year's rent.

Rare Books

Slavery's End in Tennessee, 1861-1865. 1985 (E531 .C56 1985)

Official Army Register of the Volunteer Force of the United States Army for the Years 1861, '62, '63, '64, '65. 1987 (E494 .U538 1987)

Forgotten Confederates: An Anthology About Black Southerners. 1995 (E487 .J77 v. 14)

Black Soldiers in Blue: African American Troops in the Civil War Era. 2002 (E540.N3 B63 2002)

Trial and Triumph: Essays in Tennessee's African American History. 2002 (F445.N4 T75 2002)

Reconstruction Era & Gilded Age

Portrait of an unidentified African American woman, circa the early 20th century.

Portrait by Browder Studios. Photograph from Volunteer Voices Digital Collection, provided by the Beck Cultural Exchange Center.

Rare Books

Catalogue of Swift Memorial Institute. circa 1880s (LC2852.R63 S92)

Annual Report of the Slater Training School. 1886 (LC2761 .A935)

Sparkling Gems of Race Knowledge Worth Reading. A Compendium of Valuable Information and Wise Suggestions that Will Inspire Noble Effort at the Hands of Every Race-loving Man, Woman, and Child. 1897 (E185.5 .H16)

An Appeal for Social Purity in Negro Homes, a Tract. 1898 (E185.86 .H37 1898)

Historical Sketch of the Freemen's Missions of the United Presbyterian Church, 1862-1904. 1904 (E185.2 .U5)


The Negro in Tennessee during the Reconstruction period. 1933 (Thesis.W181)

Some Social and Economic Phases of Reconstruction in East Tennessee, 1864-1869. 1946 (Thesis46.C18)

Black Children and Northern Missionaries, Freemen's Bureau Agents, and Southern Whites in Reconstruction Tennessee, 1865-1869. 2005 (Thesis 2005b .K43)

Rebuilding a Community: Prosperity and Peace in Post-Civil War Knoxville, Tennessee, 1865-1870. 2008 (Thesis 2008 .H53)

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