Nashville and Monteagle, TN
Dan Azar, Rogeno Malone, David Ortega, Ian Ward
The group made its first stop in Nashville, Tennessee. Alumnus Ben Whitehouse ‘99 joined for lunch and introduced a closed legal case against the Highlander Folk School. Albeit forming leaders and introducing diverse thought, Highlander was perceived as a threat to the local community and was closed. Whitehouse took the Civil Rights class on a tour of downtown Nashville and spoke on different Civil Rights efforts such as sit-ins directed towards desegregating businesses. The first sit-in took place at a Walgreens, which contained segregated lunch counters. The Civil Rights class also saw monuments and statues of the city. We found the most memorable to be the statue of Senator Carmack, best known for driving Civil Rights activist Ida B. Wells out of the state for being an outspoken advocate for African Americans. At the Nashville public library, we were exposed to a room dedicated to honoring and remembering the movement. The room contained events pertaining to the movement such as John Lewis’s arrest record, Nashville sit-in testimonials, and countless artifacts from events and actions outside of Nashville.
The African American music class had the opportunity to meet Dr. Paul Kwami, the current director of the Jubilee Singers at Fisk University. The group toured Fisk with Kwami and learned the history and importance of the Singers. The Jubilee Singers were an all-black acapella group formed to raise funds for Fisk. Initially, their repertoire consisted of the “white man’s music” as the group did not perform negro spirituals. Later, as the group toured around the country, they began to sing more black folk music and spirituals. It was inspiring to learn how the Singers gave the world a genuine look at African American culture through music.
The events of this first day demonstrated how the struggle for Civil Rights persisted in both the workings of the government and the music industry, and by learning from this past we can progress towards a better future.
Within five years of opening Fisk University found itself in financial turmoil. To save the institution, a group of nine students toured the country under the name “The Fisk Jubilee Singers.” The group appealed to predominantly white audiences and sang a mix of traditional hymns to negro spirituals. By 1872 the singers raised enough funds to not only cover their own traveling expenses, but also send money back to Fisk. The painting above was a gift commissioned to the group by Queen Victoria after their 1873 European Tour.
John Wesley Work III was a collector of African American folklore and music, as well as the director of the Fisk Jubilee Singers from 1947 to 1956. His fieldwork involved collecting songs throughout the South, hosting lectures and publishing journals on African American music. He is most famous for composing "My Lord What A Morning", "Go Tell It On The Mountain", and "There's A Meeting Here Tonight". His major contributions include "American Negro Songs and Spirituals" (1940) and "Jubilee" (1962).
This quote from Martin Luther King Jr. resides in the Nashville Public Library. It explains the significance of the Nashville Sit-In Movement and insights gained from King during the movement. This movement was non-violent and locally organized; furthermore, outside forces were not needed. By observing the movement, MLK realized non-violent resistance and protests were the correct ways to advance the Civil Rights Movement.
John Robert Lewis was the head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which led Nashville sit-ins. SNCC aimed to raise awareness for the Civil Rights Movement and desegregate lunch counters. During the sit-ins, Lewis was arrested for breaking conduct laws regarding segregation and resisting arrest. The Nashville Public Library framed Lewis’s arrest record to commemorate his bravery for being at the forefront of the fight for equality.
The remains of the Highlander Folk School are quaint, yet somber due to the location of the building. The run-down remains do not reflect the amount of education, friendship, and leadership that once occurred at the site. This lack of memorialization also brings a level of respect to the site in the idea that it was a place of everyday-education and not an institution requiring a complex site. The rural location of the school also makes one appreciate the simplicity of its mission - leadership training for all, not just elites.