Search This Blog

Friday, August 28, 2020

August 1963 - The Civil Rights Movement in Williamson County, TN

 On today's date (August 28) in 1968, 250,000 people participated in the March on Washington and listened to Martin Luther King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech.



That event was the pinnacle of the Civil Rights Movement that summer and Dr. King predicted that it would "go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation." And it had an impact right here in Williamson County, Tennessee. At the time, African Americans made up about 1/3 of the County's 25,000 residents.

A few days before the March, the Williamson County Committee of Christian Men (WCCCM) presented a petition to the County Court (predecessor to today's County Commission) requesting action on six areas in which they wanted an "extension" of rights for the Black community. Their request focused on six areas:
  1. The desegregation of the seven County-run whites-only high schools and the one high school for Black students (Natchez High School)
  2. Employment of Black residents by the City and County governments
  3. Jury service for Black residents
  4. Improved opportunities for employment in local factories
  5. Equal opportunity in public housing
  6. Service in all public business (i.e., no longer being denied equal service by restaurants, stores, etc)
To address these issues, the County Court approved the formation of a 12-person "bi-racial committee" of Franklin and Williamson County residents.  Under the plan, the County Judge (i.e., County Mayor) Jim Warren and Franklin Mayor Asa Jewell were each to appoint three white and three Black members of the committee.  The WCCCM's petition read in part, "we have come not to pressure but to join hands in this movement."

The Nashville Banner, August 28, 1963

This was not the first time the WCCCM had made such appeals to community leaders. Two years earlier, in August 1961, seven years after the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, the WCCCM had filed a formal request of the Franklin Special School Board to desegregate the schools in the City for elementary and middle school students. They had also asked at that time for greater representation on jury duty and in leadership positions in city and county government. 

That fall of 1961, Franklin Special School District desegregated its schools using a "grade a year" voluntary plan - starting with first grade. This meant that Black families had to volunteer to send their six-year-olds to all-white schools. Two families sent daughters to the all-white Franklin Elementary School that year. The desegregation plan did not apply to Williamson County schools or to the high schools in Franklin.





It wasn't until the fall of 1967 that the Williamson County School Board desegregated the County schools.  The formerly all-Black Natchez High School briefly became an "annex" to Franklin High School. No attempt was made by the County to archive or save the trophies or artifacts important to Natchez High School, which had a thriving football team, marching band, and other extracurricular programs important to the Black community. Following the desegregation of public schools, several private schools formed in the area in reaction to this change.

The spring of that first year of desegregation, on April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.  Four months later, the Williamson County Court adopted the current version of the County Seal depicting the Confederate Flag - you can read more about the context of these events in my blog post here.

No comments:

Post a Comment