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Resources in African American History and Civil Rights. at the Tennessee State Library & Archives. Where does the story of Civil Rights begin?. 1624 : Africans were imported as slaves to New York’s Hudson River Valley. 1645 : The TRIANGULAR SLAVE TRADE began:

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resources in african american history and civil rights

Resources in African American History and Civil Rights

at the

Tennessee State Library & Archives

slave auctions

1624: Africans were imported as slaves to New York’s Hudson River Valley.

  • African SLAVES were brought to the West Indies to be traded for
  • SUGAR, RUM & TOBACCO, which
  • were sold in New England for LUMBER & MANUFACTURED GOODS,
  • in order to finance the purchase of new cargoes of SLAVES.
Slave auctions

1688: Pennsylvania Quakers organized the first American protest against slavery.

the civil war brought many changes
The Civil War brought many changes,

but exploitation of black workers continued . . .

fort negley
Fort Negley
  • Fort Negley was the largest inland stone fort constructed during the Civil War. It was never directly attacked during the Battle of Nashville, and the fort’s cannons were fired only a few times.
  • Fort Negley, which covers four acres, was built in 1862, largely by impressed labor. More than 2,700 African Americans built Fort Negley, with only about 300 of them being paid for their labor. Many of the workers died from the lack of appropriate clothing, warm blankets, and adequate food and shelter.

“I lost 48 hours trying to get Negroes, teams, tools, cooking utensils, and provisions. Only 150 Negroes so far, no tools, teams, etc. I wanted to employ 825 Negroes by the 11th.” (telegram, Gen. Morton to Gen. Buell, August 1862)

Fort Negley, Nashville


“At African church a negro man shot down by the guards engaged in pressing*. It is the custom of the Military authorities to go to the colored people’s churches on Sunday when they wish to make a big haul of pressed* men. The man died afterwards – Briggs attended him.”(Diary of Dr. John Berrien Lindsley, September 20, 1863)* Impressing/impressed: forcing people into military service without notice.


The Fisk Jubilee Singers helped make the nation aware of African American achievement.

From the Merl Eppse Papers


Cartoons and photographs are often the beginning of sympathy & understanding … and, eventually, of change.

Images from TSLA Photo Database


See John F. Baker’s book The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation

Household Slaves at Wessyngton Plantation, Robertson County

but s lavery by another name still existed in tennessee and other southern states
But Slavery by Another Name*still existed in Tennessee and other Southern states.

State Legislatures came up with an untapped source of free labor: prisoners!

Under the Convict Leasing program, prisoners were “rented out” to coal companies and other employers during the day & returned to their cells at night. The state made a great deal of money

. . . and the prisoners had become slaves again.

*See Douglas A. Blackmon’s eloquent book by that title (Anchor, 2009).


A man could be thrown into jail for years for such minor offenses as stealing a fence rail to heat his house, or a loaf of bread to feed his family.

Photo of Brushy Mountain Prison from Samuel Robert Simpson Papers


By 1889 TCI was contracting out 60% of Tennessee’s prisoners for over $100,000 a year.One worker in ten died every year.


One result of Convict Leasing was that white miners were shut out of earning their traditional livelihood. It was only after miners revolted that Convict Leasing ended and prison reform could occur.


The TSLA photo database, accessible from the main page of our web site and easily searchable by subject, contains thousands of photographs, sketches, and other images.

Here are a few of the many ways:


Images from TSLA Photo Database

Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954)

Ray Perkins Calvert photo, 1899

Sumner County child, 1950


from Photo Database

2 our cartes de visite collection is full of such treasures as this lovely portrait
2. Our Cartes de Visite collection is full of such treasures as this lovely portrait.

3. “This Honorable Body” in our online Exhibits area showcases the stories of the 14 African American legislators who served in the TN General Assembly in the 19th century.


Tennessee’s 19th century African American legislators worked hard to makethe law more fair for everyone,but after the last of them left office (1888), the “Jim Crow” lawsdisenfranchised African Americans for many generations.


4. The Tennessee Virtual Archive

(TeVA) contains a wealth of

historic images from the

treasures in our collection.

It is accessible from our main web page.

The Mustard Collection focuses on health issues, as in this image of children lined up for vaccinations,

The Rosenwald schools, a vital part of early black education in Tennessee, were funded by a private foundation, along with some contributions from individual donors and state funds.

Bells School, Crockett County

other tn rosenwald schools
Other TN Rosenwald schools

Lauderdale County

Crockett County

White County

Gibson County

from harper s magazine may 5 1866 colored orphan asylum memphis tsla photo database
From Harper’s Magazine, May 5, 1866: “Colored Orphan Asylum, Memphis.”TSLA Photo Database

This Harper’s Weekly cartoon features Hiram Revels (seated right), the first black Senator,* who was elected to Jefferson Davis’s former seat.*Mississippi, 1870-1871


6. One of the most interesting photo collections at TSLA can be found in the Merl Eppse Papers, featuring images of cultural, educational, andrecreational life in


The Eppse collection also includes photos of several famous African Americans, including Hattie McDaniel, Louis Armstrong, Marian Anderson, and Jackie Robinson.


8. The Fisk University scrapbook of W.H. Fort Jr. contains many historically valuable images. These photos show Langston Hughes on campus and a Nashville flood in 1926.

9 tsla has a number of important photos and documents from the civil rights era
9. TSLA has a number of important photos and documents from the Civil Rights era.

Images from TSLA Photo Database

Image from TSLA Photo Database

Martin Luther King and other Civil Rights leaders used the Tennessee lunch counter sit-ins as a model for effective protest.

in what year was the next black legislator elected
In what year was the next black legislator elected?

Monroe W. Gooden,

Styles L. Hutchins, &

Samuel A. McElwee,

members of the 45th General Assembly


were the last African Americans to serve in the Tennessee State Legislature in the 19th century.



A.W. Willis Jr., a Memphis businessman & attorney who had worked with the NAACP to desegregate the Memphis city schools, took his seat in the Tennessee General Assembly.


(77 years later)

tennessee has had 3 constitutions each new one re defining who is entitled to vote
Tennessee has had 3 constitutions, each new one re-defining who is entitled to vote:
  • 1st Tennessee Constitution (1796):
  • Free male citizens who own property.
  • 2nd Tennessee Constitution (1835):
  • Free white male citizens who own property.
  • 3rd Tennessee Constitution (1870):
  • All male citizens, regardless of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

The Tennessee vote was crucial to ratification of the 19th Amendment, which required approval by the legislatures of 36 states. By early August of 1920 there were still only 35favorable votes.

in 1997
. . . in 1997!

Did you also know that Tennessee

granted African Americans the vote before

the 15th Amendment was ratified in 1870?

On February 25, 1867, the Tennessee

General Assembly gave African Americans

the right to vote and to hold political office.

Governor Brownlow signed the bill

into law the following day.


but we also have much to celebrate!


L-R: Rev. C.T. Vivian, John Seigenthaler, Rev. James Lawson, Diane Nash, Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), Dr. James Bevel, Dr. Bernard Lafayette. Nashville Public Library, February 15, 2004. Photo by Gary Layda.

In 2010 a bust of Sampson W. Keeble, Tennessee’s first African American legislator, was installed in the State Capitol.

Sculptor Roy Butler prepares the Keeble bust for firing.


Visit us soon – we are Tennessee’s treasurehouse!__________________Tennessee State Library & Archives 403 7th Avenue North, Nashville 37243


Look under these catalog headings for interesting primary-source items:

  • (Newsletters and reports from 1965-1967)
  • (particularly the two books by Pauli Murray, concerning
  • States’ Laws on Race and Color.)

A Special TSLA TreasureZilphia Horton Folk Music Collection: IV-D-2, Ac. No. 1064Mrs. Horton collected these folksongs, songbooks, and song sheets between 1935 and 1956 when she was music director at the Highlander Folk School in Grundy County. The Highlander Folk School was the leading training center for southern labor and civil rights leaders for nearly three decades (1932-1961). Most of the tunes collected by Mrs. Horton were songs of social protest.And we have many other Highlander School materials.

recommended reading
Recommended Reading:

David Halberstam. The Children.

John Lewis and Michael D’Orso. Walking with the Wind:

A Memoir of the Movement.

Howard Zinn. SNCC: the New Abolitionists.

Tennessee Historical Quarterly:

David E. Summer. "The Publisher and the Preacher: Racial Conflict at Vanderbilt University.“ (Spring 1997)

Linda T. Wynn."The Dawning of a New Day: The Nashville Sit-Ins, February 13, 1960-May 10, 1960." (Spring 1991)


Our filmed interview with two Tennessee women who took part in the 1960 sit-ins was webcastfrom the MTSU Satellite & Webcasting Center in November 2009. Go here to watch the interview:

You may be asked to create an account or to fill out a temporary webcast viewing form. This process is free, takes only a few minutes, and does not obligate you to anything.


The civil rights struggle is not over.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Martin Luther King, Jr.