It was a real pleasure to join 19 Kentucky teachers on a bus tour of Civil Rights Movement sites through the states of Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi. Over the next several posts I will try to highlight some of these sights with images I took along the way and include some historic images as well.
After meeting in Lexington, Kentucky and getting on the bus our first stop after lunch at Neely's BBQ was to Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. I have been to Nashville many times, but I had never been on the campus of Fisk. Fisk has a long history that dates back to the Reconstruction era (1867). It was founded by the American Missionary Association and was named for Gen. Clinton B. Fisk, the Freedmen's Bureau commissioner for Tennessee and Kentucky.
A few short years after the founding of the institution it was in serious debt and was threatened with closing when school treasurer George White assembled a group of student singers, all but two of whom were former slaves and named them the Jubilee Singers. Going on the road they raised funds and helped keep Fisk's doors open to offer a rare chance at education to African American students. The humble monument above is dedicated to the Jubilee Singers and our tour guide explained that it was placed upon a stone foundation that formerly served as a slave auction block in Nashville.
The first building on what would eventually become the established campus was named Jubilee Hall (pictured above), which was built in 1876.
Our tour guide, an Iraq War veteran and graduate of Tennessee State University, told us that the Jubilee Singers not only toured around the United States, but also went to England and sang before Queen Victoria in 1873. It is believed that Nashville's name "Music City" came about when the queen heard the singers and said that they must be from a "musical city."
This beautiful portrait of the Jubilee Singers is proudly displayed in Jubilee Hall.
The architecture of Jubilee Hall is fantastic and the building is now listed as a National Historic Landmark.
One of Fisk's most famous alumni is historian (and one of my heroes) John Hope Franklin. Franklin passed away in 2009, but his legacy is memorialized in the name of the university's library; a very fitting tribute to the scholar. We were told that Dr. Franklin would only accept naming the library in his honor if his wife's name was included as well.
In the Franklin library is this portrait of a young John Hope and Aurelia Franklin on the Fisk campus. A large case in the library's lobby is dedicated to Dr. Franklin and his accomplishments during his long life. If you haven't read his autobiography Mirror to America, please do. I highly recommend it.
Probably the most famous alumni of Fisk is W.E.B. Du Bois. Du Bois graduated from Fisk in 1888 and entered Harvard that fall. He earned a bachelor's degree at Harvard and then studied in Germany before returning and becoming the first African American Ph.D. from Harvard in 1895. In 1909, he along with a group of like minded activists formed the NAACP.
While at Fisk we also visited the "Knowledge Tree." It was here that students came to study before their big tests and where student activists such as Dianne Nash planned civil disobedience actions like the Nashville lunch counter sit-ins and the Freedom Rides.
History abounds at Fisk University. In fact the school is known as the "brain trust" of the Civil Rights Movement. Unfortunately, Fisk's history that is not well known, but it should be. The university is a story of perseverance and accomplishment; overcoming long odds and making a way for future generations to experience and enjoy the benefits of a good education.