History of Tennessee/WWII and Post-War Tennessee (1942-present)
War Effort in Tennessee
America’s entrance into the allied war effort was marked by a national crisis. The events at Pearl Harbor brought America into the Second World War at a critical time, and on a large scale from coast-to-coast. Not to be overlooked are the contributions made by Tennesseans, both on the battlefields and on the home front. One of the lesser known ways Tennesseans helped the war effort was in the production of the atomic bomb at Oak Ridge.
Oak Ridge and Atomic Bomb Production
The first occurrence of atomic fission was in Germany in 1939 by Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmannn. The bombardment of uranium atoms with neutrons resulted in an outcome unlike that of other elements. The nuclei of most elements change somewhat during neutron bombardment, but the nuclei change significantly with uranium, breaking approximately into two equal pieces. As a result of this process, massive amounts of energy were released and proof of a new energy source could be harnessed. Additionally, the process of fission under the right circumstances could result in a chain reaction leading to continuous emission of energy.
American governmental support to further research into uranium began in February of 1940, and by 1942, enough research had been demonstrated that a large scale bomb was possible. Concurrently, General Leslie Groves had approved Oak Ridge, Tennessee as a site to advance nuclear research and was established as the headquarters for the famous Manhattan Project.
Oak Ridge was to become the home of the uranium enrichment, and pilot plutonium plants for the project. Located just west of Knoxville, Oak Ridge was tasked with producing the uranium isotope U-235, critical for the creation of an atomic bomb. The acquisition of 59,000 acres was considered necessary for the project and displaced approximately 1000 families in the region. The location was isolated enough to maintain its confidentiality while also providing enough of a labor force from Knoxville, a population of approximately 111,000. Oak Ridge was initially planned to have a residential population of 13,000, but by 1943 estimates, the population reached as high as 42,000. By the spring of 1945, the population had peaked at 75,000 people and by the end of World War Two, Oak Ridge was the fifth largest city in Tennessee and “was consuming one-seventh of all the power being produced in the nation”. At its peak, Oak Ridge employed 90,000 workers and had a cost of $1,106,393,00.
On July 25th, 1945, the last shipment of Uranium 235 left Oak Ridge becoming the bomb code named “Little Boy”. This bomb was dropped over the manufacturing city of Hiroshima on August 6th 1945. It is estimated that 70,000 were killed instantly from the blast and estimates of the death toll five years later reached 200,000 due to radiation exposure. Three days after the detonation of "Little Boy", on the 9th of August, the plutonium bomb code named “Fatman” was dropped on Nagasaki killing approximately 40,000 people, with a death count reaching 140,000 by some estimates. The surrender of Japan came on August 14th, and the official ending World War Two came not long after on September 2nd, 1945. This solidified the beginning of the atomic age and placed the United States at the top as a nuclear superpower.
On the Home Front
Throughout World War Two, over 300,000 Tennesseans served in the armed forces. Over 5,731 Tennesseans lost their lives fighting for their country. Some notable Tennesseans to fight include General Frank Maxwell Andrews, who replaced Dwight D. Eisenhower as the commander of the United States European Theater of Operations. At the time of his death, he was ranked as Commanding General, the highest-ranking Ally to be killed. Others like General Clifton B. Cates and Henrietta Hickman Morgan fought in the Pacific theater with the Marines and the Navy, respectively.
Some of the training camps located in Tennessee included Camp Campbell, Camp Forrest, and at Camp Tyson. Furthermore, several small air bases across the state trained pilots. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers trained at these camps throughout the war and were also used to house thousands of Axis prisoners. Tennessee, like many other states, changed its industrial facilities to support the international war effort. Tennessee had been previously been considered a predominantly agricultural-based economy. During the war, this shifted to an industrial-based economy with the development of Oak Ridge. Factories in Chattanooga, Knoxville and Memphis were also altered to help accommodate the production of war materials. Twenty nine completely new industries sprouted in Tennessee in just 1943, including companies like Rohm and Haas, which produced Plexiglas for airplanes. The rapid expansion of industrial work contributed to the broadening of labor supply. Women in the workplace increased all across America as a result of the war effort and their impact is not to be overlooked. During the War, “over six million women took wartime jobs in factories or farms, three million women volunteered with the Red Cross, and over 200,000 women served in the military." In Tennessee, hundreds of factories were now employing women, one example being the Vultee Aircraft Plant in Nashville where observation planes, dive bombers, and other fighters were built. Approximately one-third of the wartime employees in this plant were women. Another way Tennesseans contributed to the effort from home was in the creation of “Victory Gardens." These homegrown foods were either used to help minimize Tennesseans use of war rations or to be preserved and sent to the front lines. Typically female-dominated skills such as cooking, canning, preserving food, as well as sewing, proved incredibly important in supplying the essential goods for the war.
The war effort had changed the Tennessean, at home and abroad, resulting in a permanent change in how the Tennessean economy functioned. Supplying enough power to radically industrialize the state was a problem solved by new infrastructure. From 1940 to 1945, seven dams were constructed as well as a steam-powered generator to help meet the power needs of these factories. This influx of development changed the pattern of the traditionally agriculture-based economy before World War Two into an industrialized, manufacturing focused Tennessee post-war.
Medal of Honor Recipients
Of the 300,000 Tennesseans who served in World War II, around 5700 would never make it back to their home state. Six of these soldiers, however, distinguished themselves enough to be worthy of receiving the highest award the military has to offer: the medal of honor. Of these six, Charles H. Coolridge is the only surviving recipient as of 2019.
Charles H. Coolridge was born on August 4th, 1921 in Signal Mountain Tennessee. After being drafted into the U.S. army in 1942, he was first sent to Africa where he served for two years and then was moved to France in 1944 where he would earn his medal of honor. Coolridge was a machine gun operator whose orders were to hold a hill of strategic importance near the German border. As there was no officer present, Coolridge assumed command of the allied forces present, many of them being new recruits having never seen combat before. Over four days, the hill was attacked constantly by German forces trying to retake lost ground. Under Coolridges’ strong leadership they managed to hold the hill until the Germans attacked with tanks on the fourth day. Prior to the final attack, the Germans had attacked with almost no vigor or determination but that would change on October 27th. On this day the Germans made a strong push supported by two tanks and managed to partially breakthrough. In an attempt to stop the advance Coolridge crawled within 30 yards of one of the tanks and attempted to use a bazooka to destroy it. However, the bazooka malfunctioned leaving Coolridge in an extremely vulnerable position. He then held this position for a short time until calling for a retreat and conducting an extremely organized withdrawal with him being the last one to leave the hill. He was awarded the medal of honor for both his strong leadership and fighting as long as possible.
A second Tennessean to receive the medal of honor, Troy McGill was fighting in the Los Negros Islands off the coast of Papa New Guinea in March of 1944. On the morning of March, the 4th McGill and eight other men were defending a small ridge against Japanese forces. A group of 200 Japanese soldiers then attacked the ridge managing to kill or injure 6 of McGill’s men in the process. At this point, McGill ordered his final soldier to retreats stating that he would hold the ridge and give him time to escape. He then fired upon the enemy until he had ran out of ammunition and then waited for the enemy to approach. Once they were within 5 yards of his position he lept from his foxhole and managed to club an enemy soldier to death with his rifle before being killed himself. He was 29. When allied forces retook the ridge they found 105 enemy soldiers littering the surrounding forest.
Elbert L. Kinser was born in the town of Greensville, Tenessee in October of 1922 and was enlisted into the marine corps in December of 1942. In 1943 he was deployed to the pacific front on the island of Okinawa. Kinser was in leading a rifle platoon when they found themselves engaged in a grenade battle with the enemy. One Japanese grenade was thrown into Kinser’s immediate area and in an attempt to save his men he threw himself on top of it. When the grenade detonated Kinser’s body took the brunt of the force from the explosion saving some of his men from also being hit but killing him in the process. He was 22. He was later posthumously awarded the medal of honor for sacrificing himself to save his men.
John Harlan Willis was born in Columbia, Tennessee in June of 1921. Willis was a U.S. Navy medic and in the year 195 was deployed to the pacific front to fight on Iwo Jima. In the process of fighting, he was hit by shrapnel from a Japanese grenade and subsequently ordered to fall back into the field hospital to get treatment for his wounds. He chooses not to follow that order and instead remain on the frontlines treating his fellow soldiers. At this point in the battle, the Japanese started to attack his position with grenades and Willis began to throw them back before they detonated. Willis managed to throw back eight grenades successfully but the ninth grenade he attempted to throw back detonated in his hand killing him. He was 23. Willis was posthumously awarded the medal of honor for choosing to stay at the front and treat his fellow soldiers along with throwing back enemy grenades.
Raymond Cooley was a platoon guide fighting in the Philippine islands in February of 1944. He and his squad were ordered to attack two enemy machine-gun positions. Cooley advanced within 20 yards of an enemy machine gun nest and destroyed it by throwing a hand grenade into it. He then attempted the same thing on a different machine gun nest arming a handful of grenades to throw in. Six enemy combatants then rushed out towards him leaving him with a handful of armed grenades and nowhere to throw them. He then dove onto the armed grenades to save the friendly soldiers by his side. Miraculously he survived this ordeal but was severely wounded. Just two years after the end of the war he was suffering from crippling pain from these wounds and resorted to various substances to help him cope. He died at the age of 30 in a car accident while driving under the influence. The highway he died on was later changed to be named after him to honor what he did and the suffering he endured because of the wounds he got during the war.
Nashville and Country Music
Today, if the average person were to travel to Nashville, Tennessee they would find that it lives up to its name as the capital of country music. Additionally, Tennessee’s largest city is the destination where any aspiring country musician envisions their career taking off. In the last fifty years, the overall landscape of the city has completely changed to one of the most influential cities in the world for country music stars. Nashville has become a hotspot for tourism in Tennessee due to the emergence of the country music industry and the economic growth that is associated with a boom in the industry. Over 11 million people per year descend on Nashville to take in the sights and sounds of the talent-rich record labels and their signed artists. The decision by the record labels to centralize their main recording outlets to Nashville was the most important driver in initiating the growth of the city’s musical identity.
The 1990’s saw the growth of crossover artists, the people who turned country music from its stereotypical “hillbilly” nature into a mainstream popular genre of music, artists such as Garth Brooks, Shania Twain, The Dixie Chicks, and another Tennessee born musician Billy Ray Cyrus with his hit song “Achy Breaky Heart” changed this perception of country music which has helped Nashville gain world notoriety and transform country into the largest growing genre in the United States . Nashville has embraced being the so-called “Music City USA” by taking a focus on tourism growth and opportunities. Nashville in the 1950s and '60s saw the beginnings of the country music movement when wealthy entrepreneurs believed that they could establish themselves as titans in the industry and created a so-called Music Row, an area in the 16-block downtown core with densely populated recording studios and performance spaces along with the budding business of agencies. These entrepreneurs can be credited with paving the way for today’s country music stars. In the early boom of country music, Fellow city, Branson, Missouri would piggyback off of the success in Nashville and Tennessee in general, attracting 4 million tourists per year while only having a population of four thousand. The evolution of country music in the Tennessee area is responsible for almost 15,000 local jobs and accounts for almost $6.4 billion in economic impact for the city. By 1995, there were 175 recording studios in the city and roughly 25,000 Nashvillians were employed in the music industry.
A large contributing factor to the growth of tourism in Nashville is linked to the racial passivity that Nashville’s music industry radiates. Nashville was a main site for civil rights movements in the 1960s and because of this, the city took advantage of government funding to gentrify some lower quality areas of the city. This action further hit the point that Nashville and the country music genre as a whole do not show any racial bias in the community. Nashville prides itself on creating music for “everyday folk” and not particularly exiling anyone from the community of fans of country music. While the exposure that the city offers to gain popularity was enough to draw in many artists to try and “make it”, the track record of Nashville in making self-employed artists wealthy also draws a big crowd. In 2003, self-employed Nashville performers accounted for $290.7 million in revenue. Additionally, outside of the self-employed performers, approximately $722 million is paid in wages annually to everyone working in the music industry with the lowest average annual salary sitting at $40,000, a livable American wage. Gaylord entertainment company is the most influential tourism music business in Nashville and owns many different iconic parts of country music lore including the Grand Ole Opry, Opryland and other hotels. This company is responsible for $1.8 billion in the Nashville economy.
Furthermore, the industry of country music has also birthed many different businesses that draw many different consumers to the area such as souvenir shops, organized group tours and travel packages that intertwine the country music experience with other core tourist businesses. The birth of many local businesses was dependent on this type of traveller and the market for such locations has never been in higher demand. For instance, the Wildhorse Saloon is a 3,300 sq. ft bar in downtown Nashville that remains operational due to the country music industry, partnering with many different artists to offer frequent performances and an overall environment that is welcoming to visitors. Likewise, the Country Music Hall of Fame also draws tourists who want to see the rich history of the industry and city in general. Those who visit the museum can see inside what a real recording studio looks like. Finally, the Grand Ole Opry is a staple in the history of country music dating back all the way to 1927. The Opry still broadcasts live every Friday and Saturday night and has even become so influential that The Nashville Network television station was created to keep up with the demand for the Opry show. The 4,400-seat venue is the pinnacle of country music in the area. Overall the city of Nashville has catered to the casual and intense country music fan by offering all ranges of experiences to any tourist visiting the city. Whether the traveller wants to go to the downtown core and visit some bars and nightclubs with performances from the approximately 20,000 members of the country music industry or they want to fully immerse themselves by taking tours of the Country Music Hall of Fame, catching a radio show at the Grand Ole Opry or travelling down Music Row to get an idea of the stranglehold country has on the city. Nashville has a booming tourism sector and they have the ever-growing popularity of country music to thank.
Located in southwestern Tennessee, Memphis is Tennessee’s second-largest city and a major source for tourism within the state. Memphis’ unique location as a crossroads situated on the Mississippi River and the in the middle of several important locations such as St. Louis and Chicago in the north, Texas in the west and New Orleans in the south means Memphis has historically been a major hub for visitors passing through or venturing into the city. Furthermore, Memphis has a geographical advantage by being located within a 12-hour drive from 70 percent of the American population. This proximity to a wide range of Americans benefits the city as tourism trends show people aged between 18 and 24 opt to take shorter, more frequent trips to locations closer to home than their parents before them. For these reasons, it is clear that due to its geography and location, Memphis always had the potential to be a tourism powerhouse, not just within Tennessee, but also within the country.
Historically, Memphis’ large African American population has led to complex inter-racial relations that have greatly impacted the history, music, and culture of the city. After all, it is here at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where Martin Luther King Jr. was fatally shot and killed. The site is now the National Civil Rights Museum, displaying artifacts from the civil rights movement holding pieces from as early as the famous underground railroad. African Americans were also vital in establishing the blues, rock n roll, and soul scene in Memphis, and it is here where acts such as Earth, Wind & Fire, Aretha Franklin, Booker T and more got their big break with STAX records. Currently, the 17,000 square ft STAX museum resides on the original site of the legendary STAX record company and contains over 200 artifacts from their extraordinary musicians. With such a large impact on such an important city, it is easy to see how thousands of African Americans each year make the pilgrimage to Memphis as part of what has become known as an African-American tourist network.
Music is another driver of tourism in Memphis, especially since so-called “music tourism” is a rapidly growing subsector of the tourism industry. The previously mentioned blues, rock n roll, and soul have all been influenced by Memphis in one way or another. Historically, Sam Phillips’ Sun Studio brought fame to many acts including the likes of Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, and Elvis Presley. Music in Memphis is very versatile, signposts are located at appropriate points for educational purposes, relevant academic debates. As for leisure, Memphis is home to six major music festivals. The Memphis in May festival, in particular, is a one-month long celebration in May that salutes Memphis music, people and food at Tommy Lee Park on the Mississippi River. Barbeque is king in Memphis with regards to food, with many back alley and hole in the wall restaurants serving up classic southern staples such as ribs, fried chicken, catfish and more. However, the largest of all the Memphis festivals is Elvis Week which attracts 75,000 visitors to the city. Elvis Presley has had an unparalleled influence on the city of Memphis with 700,000 people annually visiting his 14 acre Graceland estate, making it the second most-visited house in the country behind only the White House. The land itself was purchased by Elvis for $100,000 in 1957 at the age of 22 and is located in one of Memphis’ most prestigious neighbourhoods. Elvis purchased the land for his family and friends and often sought refuge on the estate. In 2006, Graceland was made a national historic landmark, and it’s contribution to the Memphis economy is estimated to be around 300-400 million USD per year creating an extra 4,000 to 6,000 jobs in the local economy.
Beale Street in Memphis is another massive tourist destination in the city. Originally located in a largely African American neighborhood, Beale Street was deemed undesirable and was rebuilt in the late 1970s and 1980s, the once discarded street is now a national historic landmark. While these changes brought vitality back into the area, the impoverished residents were displaced due to residential property dynamics, meaning many African American residents that have historically called the neighborhood home, were now forced to relocate due to the gentrification spurred by the urban renewal and cultural tourism projects. However, seeing an estimated 4.2 million visitors annually, Beale Street is currently the second most visited street in America trailing only Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Some attractions located on Beale Street include the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, the FedEx Forum and BB King Blues Bar, among others. Additional key sites in Memphis include the Memphis Zoo, home to over 400 animals and filled with Egyptian decorations and the Peabody Hotel. The Peabody Hotel is famous for it’s 5 mallard ducks that march down a red carpet from the elevator to the lobby’s Italian marble fountain every day at 11:00 a.m., where they play to music by John Philip Sousa until 5:00 p.m., when they waddle back on the carpet to the elevator and are escorted to their penthouse suite. The Memphis Pyramid is another iconic building in the city, towering 32 storeys and facing the Mississippi River. Originally built as an arena, in 2015, the building was repurposed as a Bass Pro Shops Megastore.
Overall, Memphis sees an average of 9 million tourists annually, which brings $2.5 billion USD into the city’s economy. Roughly 49,300 jobs were attributed to tourism in the Memphis metropolitan area, around 11 percent of the population (currently estimated to be approximately 680,000). Furthermore, when considering Memphis’ history, geography, and culture and comparing current and projected tourism trends, it is clear that Memphis will continue to be a tourism powerhouse, not just for the state of Tennessee, but also nationally.
Civil Rights Protests and Actions
The Civil Rights Movement took place in the United States beginning in the late 1940s and continued until the end of the 1960s. The goal of the movement was to fight against the racial segregation and discrimination that African Americans faced across the country, but specifically in the southern states that had been a part of the Confederacy in the mid and late 1800s. Tennessee had been a part of the Confederacy, and racial discrimination was still very much part of everyday life in Tennessee. People who were black were not allowed to fully participate in society. Public facilities, such as restaurants, parks or theaters in some cases did not allow blacks inside, and if they were, these groups were confined to special areas. On public transportation, they had to ride at the back, and if the white-only seats became full, they must yield their seat to white citizens. Following World War II, where African Americans fought against fascism and for freedom, many were very discontent with a life of inequality. Thus, African Americans began to try and change the laws which restricted their freedom, and the civil rights movement was born. Tennessee was at the forefront of this movement.
February 25th 1946
One of the first postwar outbreaks of violence requiring legal defense was that of the residents of Columbia, Tennessee on February 25th, 1946. The violence sprung from a fistfight between two WWII veterans: one black and one white. The fistfight caused the violence to spread, gathering a mob of whites seeking to ransack the black neighborhood and business district. The black neighborhood armed itself and warned whites not to enter. Four white policemen entered anyway after noticing several streetlights were shot out, causing them to be shot down by African Americans in the neighborhood. A fight ensued, eventually, the Governor was forced to call on the national guard to break up the festivities. Twenty-five black men were charged as a result. Looby and colleagues defended twenty-three African Americans in litigation, winning acquittals for all of them.
Influence of the Highlander Folk School (1950-61)
The Highlander Folk School, founded in 1932 in Monteagle, Tennessee, was originally focused on labor relations until volatile race relations prompted a shift toward issues of segregation in 1950. Before then, Highlander concentrated on organizing and training the unemployed and working people through workshops to help ordinary people gain knowledge. Strained state relations after WWII brought allegations that the center was spreading communism across the south. The founder and many school allies denied the claim. Highlander soon realized that the labor movement required confronting racism and segregation, which prompted opposition leaders to campaign against Highlander and name it a communist school in an effort to shut it down. Almost a year before Brown vs. The Board of Education, Highlander was holding workshops to prepare for school integration.
In 1954, Septima Clark, known as Queen mother of the Civil Rights Movement, attended Highlander and joined in discussions regarding the inability of African Americans to vote due to voting law restrictions requiring voters to pass so-called literacy tests. Then in 1955, Rosa Parks attended desegregation workshops at Highlander, which may have empowered her to take a stand against segregated bus laws. Highlander later hired Septima Clark to direct the integration workshops. When Clinton High School struggled to integrate their schools, she brought the African American students to Highlander for a weekend retreat. The Georgia Education Commission criticized Highlander's 25th anniversary Labor Day celebration claiming that the school was communist. A school raid in 1959 resulted in four staff members being charged with possession of alcohol, drunkenness, and resisting arrest. Highlander didn't flinch and instead began a Youth Project where white and black students participated in sessions about school integration.
Then, in 1961, the Tennessee Supreme Court revoked Highlander's charter and ordered that the school be closed.
Impact of Brown v. Board of Education (1954)
This landmark decision declared segregation in schools to be unconstitutional. Under the leadership of Governor Earl Warren, the Supreme Court determined that separate educational facilities were unequal and that the “separate but equal” doctrine had no place in public education. Segregationists across Tennessee condemned the decision, but Tennessee officials were not willing to do the same. Officials, such as Mayor Ben West, were described to display “stoic acceptance” of the decision. In September 1955, a new lawsuit was brought forth, to enforce integration at Tennessee schools. Alfred Z. Kelley, a Tennessee father, filed a class-action suit, Robert W. Kelley et al., v. Board of Education of Nashville, demanding open admission to high schools on behalf of his son, Robert W. Kelley. The plaintiffs won, causing the Nashville Plan to come to fruition. The Nashville Plan called for the desegregation of one grade per year, beginning with the first grade in 1957.
Registration of Black Voters
Ever since the late 1800s, black voters in the South found a number of barriers to voting, including grandfather clauses, poll taxes, literacy tests, and understanding clauses. Tennessee stood out as one southern state with fewer barriers placed on African American voters. In the 1940s and 1950s, African Americans in Memphis and Nashville had begun facilitating voter registration drives, often backed by public officials. Tennessee also repealed the poll tax in 1953, ahead of federal civil rights legislation. Tennessee bragged a 62.7% registration rate of their African American voters by 1958.
Despite Tennessee’s record of positive voting registration among the black community, two counties stood in stark contrast. Haywood and Fayette counties, both with large black populations, faced legal action from the Eisenhower administration to grant the people access to vote. When black citizens presented themselves to register to vote, local officials responded by declining to extend credits and called in their loans. Soon, about 700 sharecropping families found themselves homeless and living in what became known as Tent City. Tent City drew sympathy from out-of-state, with several organizations demanding justice for the Haywood and Fayette citizens.
In early 1960 in North Carolina, four black students staged a sit-in to protest segregation at a lunch counter in downtown Greensboro. The trend of sit-ins spread across the south, many of them experiencing success in Tennessee. Students from Knoxville College planned their own sit-ins at lunch counters in the city. Executives from the counters explained that the counters could not be desegregated without approval from their head office. In an unprecedented move, Mayor John Duncan, along with two students and two members of the city’s chamber of commerce, went to New York to confront head office executives on the issue of desegregation. Sit-ins began in Memphis in the spring of 1960. Black students from LeMoyne College targeted public libraries rather than lunch counters. By early summer, both lunch counters and public libraries were desegregated in Tennessee.
End of Segregation
With the end of World War II, the increase of civil rights activities within black communities was at an all-time high. This increase would later be to thank for the abolition of the Jim Crow laws that gave permission to whites to segregate African Americans. A number of important dates, movements, and people contributed to the removal of these laws and they all came alongside the Civil Rights Movement. Notable contributions include: - In 1948, President Harry Truman ordered integration in the military. - In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled that educational segregation was unconstitutional.
- In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act that led to the end of the legal discrimination and segregation that had been created by the Jim Crow laws.
- In 1965, the Voting Rights Act ended any efforts that had been made to keep minorities from voting, this included African Americans. - In 1968, the Fair Housing Act ended discrimination in renting and selling homes. With the help of these civil rights movements, the Jim Crow laws and customs were no longer in legal action.
The Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated by James Earl Ray on Thursday, April 4, 1968, in Memphis Tennessee.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was an American Christian Minister, founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and a social advocate who became the most prominent leader of the civil rights movement in the United States of America. Through the efforts of non-violent protests and inspirational speeches, Dr. King helped abolish the legal segregation of African Americans in the south and other parts of the United States. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the most well-known civil rights activists until his assassination by James Earl Ray on Thursday, April 4, 1968, in Memphis Tennessee.
While standing on the second-floor balcony of room 306 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis Tennessee, King was wounded by a gunshot at 6:01 pm. By 6:15 pm, unconscious King arrived at St. Joseph Hospital, where he was given oxygen and a blood transfusion as he had a palpable heartbeat and radial pulse. Shortly after his arrival, his breathing stopped and doctors performed a tracheotomy. Following this procedure, King’s cardiac monitor indicated a little to no heart function, so doctors injected him with intracardiac adrenaline and began cardiac massage. Due to the total loss of spinal cord fluid in his lower neck, lack of vital signs and heart function, King was proclaimed dead at 7:05 pm by general surgeon Dr. Jerry Barrasso.
An autopsy was performed by Shelby County Medical examiner Dr. Jerry T. Francisco at 10:45 pm on the day of his death. The findings from the autopsy were submitted and became a public document under Tennessee law, on April 11, 1968. Following this submission, many critics of the investigation questioned the accuracy and thoroughness of the report. To address these concerns, a panel of expert forensic pathologists were convened by the committee to review the treatment that Dr. King received and the procedures and conclusions that were made in the autopsy report. The panel extensively analyzed the report and all relevant evidence that pertained to the assassination. It was concluded that the initial findings from the first autopsy were generally accurate and that King died from a single gunshot wound caused by a bullet that entered the right side of the face approximately an inch to the right and a half-inch below the mouth.
Fifteen days after King’s assassination, his murder was identified by three latent fingerprints that were found at the crime scene. His murderer's name was James Earl Ray, an escaped convict who was serving a life sentence for robbery at the Missouri State Penitentiary. Ray fired the gunshot from the bathroom window at the back of a rooming-house at 422 ½ South Street in Memphis. There was substantial evidence that confirmed Ray's actions and he pleaded guilty for the assassination of King. Ray was sentenced to 99 years at the state penitentiary.
Martin Luther King traveled to Memphis following the tragic death of two African-American sanitation workers. The incident took place on February 1, 1968, when the two workers were killed in the back of a garbage truck due to a malfunction in the truck’s compactor as they were trying to seek shelter from the rain. The death of these two men ignited protests and violent riots as their fellow workers demanded better working conditions, an increase in wages, and acknowledgment of their union. Before his assassination, King journeyed to Memphis to make plans for a peaceful march in support of this cause. Once news broke out the assassination of Martin Luther King, an intensive manhunt was conducted in the city of Memphis. Many cities around the country also broke out in violence, and many national leaders including President Lyndon Johnson had to urge the nation to remain calm and refrain from acting out in violence.
King’s funeral was held on April 9, 1968, in Atlanta Georgia. More than 50,000 people from all around the country made their way into the state to say their final farewells to their fallen heroes. Many institutions like banks, schools, and stores were closed to honor King, and the Mayor of Atlanta also declared that this day would be called “Black Tuesday,” an official mourning day for the city. The funeral began at 10:30 am Eastern Standard time, at the Ebenezer Baptist Church. This service was private and only limited to family, members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, distinguished guests, and members of the congregation. A public service was also held at 2:00 pm at Morehouse College. Both services were broadcasted on the radio and on television on three national networks. A peaceful march was held and mourners walked a 3 ½ mile route throughout downtown Atlanta starting at the church where the private service was held.
Tennessee's Notable Figures In the Civil Rights Movement
Smith was denied entry into the all-white Memphis State University in 1957. Smith consequently sued the university, and, two years later was credited with paving the way for integration at the university. In 1959, the first African-American students, known as the Memphis Eight, enrolled at the university. Smith was at the forefront of educational integration in Memphis, as the executive secretary of the Memphis branch of the NAACP. Maxine Smith would later serve as the first African American on the Board of Education and serve two terms as their President.
Alexander Looby and Avon N. Williams Jr.
This pair was the most prominent civil rights attorneys in the post-war era. With the exception of a few, Looby and Williams Jr. undertook dozens of lawsuits targeting racism in Tennessee. Looby and Williams Jr. championed school desegregation, as well as racial discrimination in employment and public accommodations. The two attorneys worked very hard to clear a host of students who had been charged and wrongfully arrested because they were taking part in the Nashville sit-ins to protest the racial segregation in the state of Tennessee. Due to the work that Alexander Looby did working with the students who participated in the sit-ins, on the morning of April 19, 1960, Alexander Looby's house was bombed and destroyed in a racially motivated attack. Looby and his wife were in the house sleeping at the time but were left unharmed, the police were not able to find the suspects who committed the racially motivated attack. Looby had a very impressive political and law career, and he used his positions to fight for racial rights and desegregation.
Shift from Democratic to Republican Dominance
Today, the Republican Party is the dominant political party in the Southern United States, and Tennessee is not an exception to this. However, it was not always this way, as prior to the 1960s, the South was better known as a Democrat stronghold. In 1863, when Abraham Lincoln made the Emancipation Proclamation, and abolished slavery in the United States of America, he was a member of the Republican Party.
Early Rise of The Democratic Party
The Democratic Party, after the “Reconstruction” ended in 1877, was originally intended to be a party focused on maintaining as much of the countries past traditions. These traditions typically meant maintaining white supremacy and disenfranchising the newly freed African-Americans. Due to this stance on the racial divide, the Southern states were an overwhelmingly Democratic stronghold, and this lasted for almost a century, slowly beginning to change in the 1950s and 1960s. This may seem odd, seeing as the Republican Party today is widely associated with the Southern states and white America, but there was a time when a Southerner would never consider supporting the party of Abraham Lincoln. The question that therefore arises, is what occurred during the 1960s that led to such a dramatic switch in Southern and Tennessee support from the Democrat Party to the Republican Party, and has led to Republican dominance that has lasted to this day.
The Southern United States during the 20th century is often associated with racial divide, stemming from the decision of the 11 states that seceded from the Union and formed the Confederacy in an attempt to fight the abolishment of slavery. Tennessee is of course one of these states and therefore has also found the historical political support of it’s people closely tied to the division of race. This principle can be seen as the shift from Democratic to Republican support in the South began in the year 1964, which is notable for multiple reasons, first and foremost being the year in which the Civil Rights Act was instituted. The year 1964 was also the first presidential election in which the Democratic Party actively brought African-Americans into the race, and also coincided with the Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater, publicly alienating African-Americans with “implicitly racial comments”. These factors led to an opposite movement of support for the two parties as African-American support for the Democrat’s jumped in 1964 while the white population’s support for the Democrat’s fell to nearly 20% by the year 1972.
The Southern Strategy
The Republican Party continued to change the narrative on which party the Southern population would give their support to, as in 1968, Richard Nixon’s administration embarked upon a “Southern Strategy” aimed to increase Republican support in the South. The “Southern Strategy” was focused on the opposition of desegregation of school’s that had begun after the Brown v Board of Education (1954) decision by the Supreme Court, which ruled that the segregation of public schools by race was unconstitutional. After this decision, in 1968, the executive branch of the government, led by Richard Nixon, decided to get involved in the public education of the country as he viewed it as a way to gain a political advantage. The “Southern Strategy” has further been used to some extent by other presidents such as Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.
The strategy thus far has been a resounding success in the South at not just shifting the region from a Democratic to a Republican stronghold, but also in maintaining this hold to the present day. Tennessee specifically voting for a Republican candidate 10 out of the 13 general elections held since the implementation of the “Southern Strategy” in 1968. Only 3 out of the last 13 general elections saw Tennessee supporting a Democratic candidate, these elections taking place in 1976, 1992, and 1996, and it is interesting to note that Tennessee supported the Democratic candidate in two straight elections, both being Bill Clinton. Despite the world being much more accepting and desegregated today, it is clear to see that a deep divide between races in Tennessee and the rest of the South rooted in long past prejudices have a strong and lasting impact on the politics of today. The party that was at one time the champion of the emancipation proclamation and the furthest party from consideration for most of the South and Tennessee, turned into the champion of segregation and white supremacy in the early 1960s.
Post-War Economic Changes and Development
Tennessee played a large role in World War II and took pride in it. They sent out 300,000 soldiers but they had a few military bases, namely airfield grounds. The war forced Tennessee to switch up their way of life and adopt the industrial lifestyle, to move from farming to factories. Once the war was over, Tennessee continued this culture and improved on it. With all the mass immigrations the population rose and helped shape the economy and state we see today.
In early 1946 Tennessee had fully reconverted from the war and began seeing major changes to their state. There were massive population increases in various cities and counties around Tennessee. Shelby County saw their population increase from 358,000 – 482,000 1940-1950. Many other cities experienced these population growths which created expansion. The biggest impact of the war was that it accelerated the expansion of the state's industry. Before the war, Tennessee had been hit hard with floods and poverty. However, the new industries and businesses created from the war had brought prosperity and along came people. Tennessee saw its lowest migration patterns between 1940 and 1950 since the depression. Meaning very few people left the state while many migrated into it.
Before the war, Tennessee was in the beginning stages of transitioning from mainly an agricultural economy to an industrial economy. The war had a huge role in helping this transition. During the war, they couldn’t have everyone farming as they needed workers to make whatever the army needed, like guns, ammo, and planes. This pushed Tennessee’s culture to become more industrial and move away from agriculture. Between the years of 1940 to 1950, they lost 256,000 in farm population, by 1960 the farm population decreased to 560,000 compared to 1,272,000 in 1940. The changes in industries were just as crazy. “Charles Foreman forecasted 50-60% increase post-war employment over 1940”. They created a lot more plants and extensions, the industries doubled. Employment in the manufacturing sector increased by 22,000 from 1940 to 1953. By 1953 there were more than 800 plants in Memphis compared to just 400 in 1940. Their manufacturing and production sector had 2 billion dollars in 1947, which doubles Tennessee pre-war. They spent 1.75 million dollars investing in 700 new industries between the years of 1945 and 1948. All this new business made the economy begin to flourish but also pushed the development of the state. Dams were built to help create enough energy for increased factory production. The TVA built 16 dams between 1933 to 1944, in order to create enough electricity to support the factories, paving the way for post-war industrialization. In 1946 they began building pipelines to help maintain the increased population and number of factories. This is the foundation for the development of Tennessee that we see today.
Wage and Income Increases
World War II changed a lot of things for a lot of people, whether they liked it or not. Sending 300,000 people overseas to go to war, not only depletes the population but also affects the families of the soldiers. With the war lasting as long as it did, the people who survived missed a lot. Many of the soldiers were young men who would be in college, that’s when they made the GI bill of rights. It was made for the reemployment of veterans as well as lower interest rates and education. It worked very well for veterans, in 1944 95% of war veterans found jobs. UT (University of Tennessee) at one point had 8,700 students of those students 5,000 were veterans. Veterans were not the only ones helped by the end of the war. Personal income saw huge increases, in 1940 it was at 650 million in total this increased to over two billion in 1950. Per capita, personal income went from an annual income of 339 in 1940 to 994 in 1950. Men saw hourly wages increase by 52% and women 57% from 1939 to 1944. Women’s employment really began because of the wars but after World War II it really began. Nashville’s women employment increased by 49% in 1945 since 1940.
In World War II, the government was doing research on very radioactive and dangerous chemicals, in order to build what would be known as the atomic bomb. First, they needed an area for this, that area is Oak Ridge, and Monsanto ran it. Once the war ended the government decided to decline Monsanto’s contract to keep them in charge and instead turned the space into a biology research center. They studied the best ways of detecting radiation, photosynthesis experiments on how energy is transferred and much more. They brought scientists from around the world to work in the area, however, they had problems with the area not being too caring about biology. Hollaender the main scientist in charge really turned that around. In 1949, 220 people from out of town came to their biology information meetings held by Hollaender, and the meetings only grew in popularity.
Tennessee has a rich history when it comes to sports. Tennessee is home to 3 major sports franchises, the Nashville Predators of the NHL, the Memphis Grizzlies of the NBA, and the Tennessee Titans in the NFL. They are also home to many secondary leagues in soccer, baseball and other sports and are home to many college sports team including the Tennessee Volunteers and the Vanderbuilt Commodores. There will also be a Major League Soccer expansion franchise in Nashville in the 2020 season.
The Nashville Predators have played in the National Hockey League since the 1998-1999 season. They have had two coaches in their team history, Barry Trotz from 1998-2014, and Peter Lavilotte from 2014-present. They have had seven captains in team history, their current one being defenceman Roman Josi. They have had a history of developing good defenceman in their organization, including Josi, Ryan Ellis, Mathias Ekhlom, and former captains Shea Weber (the current captain of the Montreal Canadiens) and Kimmo Timonnen. P.K Subban also use to play for the Predators before being traded to the Devils in the 2019 off-season. They have been a perennial playoff team, lead by their defence and goaltender Pekka Rinne. Their franchise leading point scorer is David Legwand, with 210 goals and 356 assists for 556 points. Legwand also has the most games played in team history. Rinne leads all goaltenders in team history in wins with 347, more than double Thomas Vokoun who is second with 160 wins. Their General Manager since their inception in the 90s has been David Poile who became the winningest coach in league history when he recorded his 1320th win as a general manager. The Predators have one Stanley Cup finals appearance, which occurred back in the 2016-17 season, but they ultimately lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Thus they are still seeking their first championship to this day.
The Memphis Grizzlies, formerly the Vancouver Grizzlies have been an NBA franchise since 1995, but have been located in Memphis since 2001. They have had 6 general managers in team history, the first being Stu Jackson, and their current GM being Jason Wexler. They have also had 13 different head coaches in team history, with the first being Brian Winters and the current one being Taylor Jenkins. They have made it to the playoffs on 10 different occasions in team history, including 7 consecutive appearances from 2010 to 2017. In the 2012-2013 season, they made it to the Western Conference Finals, but got swept in 4 games by the San Antonio Spurs. They were lead by several key players that year including Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley. Conley hold the franchise record in points and assists were Gasol holds the franchise record for minutes played and rebounds. Following the 2017 season, the Grizzlies began to decline as their key players aged, and they rapidly fell down the standings. They eventually traded both Gasol and Conley. In the 2019 NBA draft, they had the second overall pick, selecting point guard Ja Morant. With Morant and a young core behind them, the Grizzlies are poised to once again contend for a playoff spot.
The Tennessee Titans, formerly known as the Houston Oilers and Tennessee Oilers, have been around since the 1960s. They played in the American Football league, and won the first two league titles, but joined the National Football League as part of the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. Despite winning those two league titles, they have yet to win a Super Bowl and thus have yet to win an NFL Championship. They now compete in the AFC South division. They have had 18 head coaches in team history, the first being Lou Rymkus, and the current one being Mike Vrabel. There most winningest coach however, is Jeff Fischer, with 142 career wins as head coach. There franchise passing leader in passing yards and touchdowns is quarterback Warren Moon who played for the Titans for nearly a decade between 1984 and 1993. There franchise leader in rushing yards is Eddie George, with over 10,000. Ernest Givins is the franchise leader in receiving yards with nearly 8,000, most of those receptions were throws from Moon, whom he played with for the majority of his time with the Titans. Despite not winning a Super Bowl, the Titans came awfully close in 2001, when they competed in the Super Bowl against the St. Louis Rams. they were led by quarterback Steve McNair to a 13-3 record in the regular season, but ultimately lost in the finals by a score of 23-16. The Titans have not made the playoffs since 2017, but are on the bubble of making it this season.
Tennessee is also home to the college sports rivalry of Vanderbuilt and the Tennessee Volunteers. This rivalry is predominantly in college football, where the two teams have met over 112 times, dating as far back as to 1892. They are both founding members of the Southeastern Conference. Tennessee leads the all-time series with a record of 75-33-5, although Vanderbuilt has won their last three meetings against Tennessee. The two teams have played in some very notable games against one another, including a scoreless tie in the 1930s. Another well-known game in the rivalry when Jay Cutler lead the Commodores to a victory over Tennessee, snapping a 23 year losing streak against the Volunteers. The history between the two teams is some of the richest in all of college sports. Tennessee has a rich sports history in general. They have 3 major sports teams in the Nashville Predators of the NHL, the Memphis Grizzlies of the NBA and the Tennessee Titans of the NFL, They are also home to the college sports rivalry of the Vanderbuilt Commodores and Tennessee Volunteers. While none of their 3 major sports team has yet to win a championship in their respective leagues, the Titans, Grizzlies and Predators continue to be competitive teams in search of those championships.