Friday, February 24, 2017

Joseph C. White - A Tuskegee Airmen Pilot

By Ellen Robison

World War II brought many changes to American society, but the United States military remained racially segregated until 1948. The Department of War established separate units for African-American soldiers. One such group was the 332nd Fighter Group, part of the famed Tuskegee Airmen. The Tuskegee Airmen consisted of African-American pilots and support staff who graduated from the Tuskegee Institute program that was created in 1941. While the program began as an experiment to determine the capabilities of African Americans in the Army Air Force, their performance earned them respect among their white comrades. One of these airmen was fighter pilot Lieutenant Joseph Clyde White of the 301st Squadron.

Cadet Joseph C. White, 1943. Record Group 237 - World War II Veteran Surveys.
Tennessee State Library & Archives

White was born in Lawrence County, Alabama in 1921, but grew up in Chattanooga, where he lived with his aunt in the 1930s. He joined the Tuskegee cadet program in 1943 to become a pilot. During his service, he spent nine months on air assignments in North Africa, Italy, France and Germany. The Allied bomber groups had sustained high casualty rates during their bombing runs over Europe and North Africa. They were desperate to find fighters who could successfully escort them on their missions and engage enemy fighters when necessary. The Red Tails, as they were known because of the red paint on the tails of their aircraft, became a popular choice for these missions as a result of their low rate of bomber casualties.

Lieutenant Joseph C. White, 1943. Record Group 237 – World War II Veteran Surveys
Tennessee State Library & Archives

White described his service in a veteran survey collected by the Tennessee State Library & Archives in 1996. In his responses, White remarked that he felt his greatest success during service was “not losing a single Allied Bomber to Enemy fighters.” Despite the work the Tuskegee Airmen were doing to prove African Americans were indeed highly capable of maneuvering combat aircraft, their standard of living in the U.S. Army Air Corps was less than ideal. In his survey, White stated that the living conditions for officers in the 301st Squadron were poor and there were no recreational activities “structured for Negro troops.” He also notes that although he “disliked segregation of the races most,” his experiences with the Tuskegee Airmen provided him with opportunities after the war.

Joseph C. White Survey, pages 1-4. Record Group 237 - WWII Veteran Surveys
Tennessee State Library & Archives

The United States government provided discharged military personnel with access to education through the G. I. Bill. White used this benefit to obtain his bachelor’s degree in physics from Tennessee State University. He continued with his education, receiving two master’s degrees in science education and administration as well as a doctorate in physics. White used his knowledge to become an instructor in flight, radar and electronics. He also worked as a physicist and teacher, establishing an electronics program at Pearl High School in Nashville. After his retirement, White frequently appeared at speaking engagements to discuss his role in the Tuskegee Airmen and the experiences he had as a pilot during World War II.

Flight Instructor Joseph C. White, 1944. Record Group 237 – World War II Veteran Surveys
Tennessee State Library & Archives

The success of the Tuskegee program may have been a contributing factor in President Truman’s decision to issue Executive Order 9981 in July of 1948, which led to the desegregation of the armed forces. In fact, the leaders of the newly created U. S. Air Force had already determined that integration was necessary for effective military service and had declared their intentions to integrate the Air Force as early as April 1948. The program’s notoriety provided a concrete example of African Americans exceeding expectations and helped set the stage for the Civil Rights Movement that would follow over the next two decades.

To learn more about the wide variety of African American collections and online resources available at the Library & Archives, visit:

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Great Migration

By Heather Adkins

Black History Month celebrates the triumphs and remembers the tribulations of African Americans in the United States. One such instance of hardship, juxtaposed with achievements of upward mobility, was the Great Migration.

“A man seated on bales of cotton, Memphis, Tennessee” June 1, 1967, Dept. of Conservation Photograph Collection

The Great Migration was a period of large scale African-American population movement from rural areas in the South to urban industrial centers of the North. The racism inherent in the installation of Jim Crow laws, segregation and growing violence against African Americans were driving factors in the migration. Additionally, incentives proposed by northern companies with labor shortages and the lack of social mobility and economic prospects in the South caused African Americans to seek opportunities elsewhere.

In this article from The Nashville American, Oct. 30, 1900, the writer extols the South and its prosperous agricultural society with its “ever-increasing opportunities” and explains that a migration of African Americans to the North would cripple the South. However, the writer also states that a migration would solve the “negro problem in the most tragic manner.”

Responses to the African-American migration were conflicting. On the one hand, many southern white citizens believed that the migration solved the “negro problem” in the South – in other words, the fewer African Americans, the better. However, many people recognized that African Americans were the economic backbone of the South because they provided abundant, cheap agricultural labor. With the steady decrease of farm laborers, southern economically agrarian states faced possible bankruptcy.

“Special Subject: Night Riders in Lake County, Tennessee – 1908,” Governor Patterson Papers – This is an example of how Southern farms depended on the black population for labor to support the agriculture economy. It also brings focus to the racial violence prevalent in the South which in part instigated the migration.

Upon realizing the potential for economic disaster, southern leaders were called to action in an effort to retain the African-American population. Inducements to stay included addressing poor living standards and racial oppression, increasing wages to match those in the North and finding ways to oppose the worst of the Jim Crow laws. Some leaders turned to more nefarious means of stemming the migration – that is, white citizens fearing the rise of black nationalism tried to force African Americans to stay. Some attempts included refusing to cash checks sent to finance black migration, limiting railroad access and publishing newspaper articles that highlighted the negative aspects of black life in the North. Some organizations posted agents in the North to report on wage levels, unionization and the rise of black nationalism. And local and federal directives restricted African-American mobility through vagrancy ordinances and conscription orders.

“The Grim Business of Today is Winning the War” Nashville Tennessean and Nashville American, Sept. 15, 1918, page 9 - African Americans had the opportunity for a free college education if they chose to enter the Students’ Army Training Corps.

One such federal order during World War I was “work or fight.” This was an effort by the government to motivate the war effort both at home and abroad. Farmers, often southern African Americans, were considered “non-essential” labor by the Selective Service Board, meaning many agricultural laborers were drafted first. The draft also caused a labor vacuum in industry – with young white men leaving for military service, African Americans were able to move into urban areas and take empty positions in factories. Occupying those jobs allowed for economic opportunity and upward social mobility. The war effort also created educational opportunities. African Americans had the option of joining the Students’ Army Training Corps, a government program which operated at certain colleges. The program paid for tuition and provided uniforms, lodging and monthly stipends.

This article, published in The Nashville American, Oct. 30, 1900, discusses the Union League’s plan to bring more African Americans into skilled trades and business.

As the African-American population grew in urban centers and factories, so did participation in labor unions and other skilled labor organizations. In 1900, the Union League, an African-American organization based in Washington D.C., began surveying the black population to find out how many were engaged in business, what type of business and for how long. According to an article in the Nashville American, the data from the survey was meant to aid the league in devising “ways and means to induce a larger number of colored persons to go into business and the skilled trades.” Black Tennesseans became vocal advocates for increasing hiring rates, earning fair wages and creating better workplace conditions for African-American workers. For example, in 1900, a local Memphis chapter of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America asked the Tennessee state government if a minority job opportunity program could be created in the state labor department. This was in response to construction companies refusing to hire skilled African-American carpenters.

Local Union No. 1986, United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America to Governor Frank Clement, March 18, 1954, Governor Clement Papers

Nashville was unique in its geography during the migration. Nashville presented more opportunities for Africans Americans than cities in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. Migrants from the “deep South” found that moving to Nashville gave them access to better healthcare, housing they could own and better education. While Nashville was not an industrial metropolis, men and women could find work in local factories for both skilled and unskilled labor.

In this article, the Nashville Tennessean and the Nashville American, Jan. 27, 1917 reported on Dr. George E. Haynes, a professor at Fisk, who lectured about the population movement from rural communities into southern and northern cities. He particularly noted the opportunities urban areas presented to African Americans.

The Great Migration redefined the cultural and political landscape of the South. It extended from the early 1900s to the 1970s. The Great Depression of the 1930s stemmed the migration because of decreased opportunities in northern urban centers. However, jobs became available again with the start of World War II and movement northward became steady through the 1960s.

“Table 4: Net Migration rates for total, native white and negro populations for Tennessee and selected state: 1870-1960 by decades” located on page 20 of “Migration and Industrial Development in Tennessee: A Report to the Industrial Development and Migration Subcommittee of the Tennessee Legislative Council Committee,” Oct. 1, 1958, by Robert S. Hutchison.

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State

Monday, February 20, 2017

TLBPH recognizes Tennessee presidents for President's Day

By Ruth Hemphill

The great state of Tennessee has provided our country with three presidents - Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk and Andrew Johnson. In honor of the upcoming President’s Day holiday, we highlight books about these three important historical figures.

The most well-known president from Tennessee is Andrew Jackson, the first Tennessean to become president. Although he was not a native Tennessean, Jackson claimed Tennessee as his home state, having moved here at the age of 20 to practice law. Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times, by H.W. Brands, is available from Tennessee Library for the Blind & Physically Handicapped (TLBPH) in audio format as a commercial recording that has been adapted for libraries for the blind and physically handicapped across the country. Hearts of Hickory: A Story of Andrew Jackson and the War of 1812, a novel by former Tennessee State Librarian and Archivist John Trotwood Moore, is also available as an audio book.

The next Tennessean to follow Jackson into the White House was James K. Polk. A native of North Carolina, Polk served one term as United States president, from 1845 to 1849. Prior to his presidency, Polk served one term as governor of Tennessee, from 1839 to 1841 and represented Maury County in the Tennessee General Assembly from 1823 to 1825. Polk also served in Congress, having won election seven times and presided over the U.S. House as its speaker. He was the first former speaker of the House of Representatives to serve as president. TLBPH has James K. Polk: 11th President of the United States, by Miriam Greenblatt, and The Slender Reed: a Biographical Novel of James Knox Polk, Eleventh President of the United States by Noel B. Gerson, both available in braille. For audio book readers, we have The Presidency of James K. Polk, by Paul H. Bergeron.

Andrew Johnson, another North Carolina native who later moved to Tennessee, took office following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Johnson was the first vice-president to gain the office following an assassination. Johnson served as president of the United States from 1865 to 1869. Prior to his presidency, he served in the Tennessee General Assembly, the U.S. House of Representatives and as governor of Tennessee, both as an elected executive and as an appointed military governor during the Civil War. Johnson also has the dubious distinction of being the first president to be impeached, following the U.S. House of Representatives' vote on 11 articles of impeachment against him. Books about Johnson in TLBPH’s collections include: The Avenger Takes His Place: Andrew Johnson and the 45 Days that Changed the Nation, by Howard Means, which is available in braille, and The Presidency of Andrew Johnson, by Albert Castel, available in audio format.

We also have biographies of presidents available for children, including such titles as: Who Let Muddy Boots Into the White House: A Story of Andrew Jackson, by Robert M. Quackenbush, and James K. Polk, 11th President of the United States, by Miriam Greenblatt. Both are available in audio format.

All of these books are also available in print format and some on compact discs from public libraries across the state of Tennessee.

TLBPH is a division of the Tennessee State Library & Archives, which is part of Secretary of State Tre Hargett's office. For more information on eligibility to borrow books from TLBPH, and what is available, see:

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Hundreds of Students Compete to Qualify for Tennessee History Day

Beginning this week, hundreds of middle and high school students from across the state will compete for the right to participate in Tennessee History Day. History Day is a competition in which students submit projects, either individually or in groups, on historical topics of their choice, related to an annual theme. This year’s theme is “Taking a Stand in History.”

Students may compete in one of five categories: papers, exhibits, documentaries, websites or performances. Judges evaluate student projects, rank them within their categories and divisions, and provide the students with feedback. Each year, the competition begins in individual schools and continues with six regional competitions held across Tennessee.

Students with the top-ranking projects at the regional competitions will advance to compete in Tennessee History Day, the statewide contest sponsored by the Secretary of State’s office and Humanities Tennessee. The competition is organized by the Tennessee Historical Society.

The regional competition for Middle Tennessee, hosted by the Middle Tennessee State University history department, will be held this Friday. Here are the other regional competitions:

  • The North Middle Tennessee regional, hosted by the Austin Peay State University history department, is scheduled for Feb. 22. 
  • The West Tennessee regional, hosted by the University of Memphis history department, is scheduled for Feb. 25. 
  • The Southeast Tennessee regional, hosted by the Museum Center at 5ive Points in Cleveland, is scheduled for March 2. 
  • The East Tennessee regional, hosted by the East Tennessee Historical Society and the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, is scheduled for March 3 at the university’s conference center. 
  • The Northeast Tennessee regional, hosted by Tusculum College in Greeneville, is scheduled for March 6.

"I believe all students who participate in History Day benefit, regardless of how far they make it in the competition,” said Secretary of State Tre Hargett. "History Day has been proven to help students develop skills that they can use in school and later in their careers. Studies have shown that History Day participants tend to be better informed and more actively engaged as citizens after they become adults.”

Tennessee History Day will be held at various locations in downtown Nashville April 8. The top finishers at that competition will advance to the National History Day finals, which will be held in College Park, Maryland, in June.

For more information, please visit

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A Family of Artists: The Streeters

By Lori Lockhart

Pablo Picasso once stated that “the purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” If that statement is correct, then one African-American family from Bedford County has been keeping people's souls clean for generations.

Colia Streeter was a renowned African-American country string musician. He played fiddle, banjo and guitar. He was born in Fairfield, just outside Wartrace, Bedford County, on Nov. 2, 1891. He was the son of George W. and Kittie Cole Nelson Streeter.

Colia Streeter (holding banjo) with his brother George Jr. and two unidentified adults [probably his parents George Sr. and Kittie]
Bedford County, circa 1905, Tennessee Arts Commission Folk Arts Program Records, Tennessee State Library & Archives

Colia Streeter grew up in Wartrace and began working on the railroad as a teenager. A pamphlet about his son, Vannoy Streeter, titled “The Life and Accomplishments of ‘Wireman’ Vannoy Streeter,” stated that Colia Streeter made “approximately 80 cents a day” working for the railroad. It was said that he always carried at least one instrument along with him wherever his work took him. In his off hours, he would always find a place to play and became quite a well-known musician from north Georgia to Nashville.

Wire sculpture of a man playing a banjo by Vannoy Streeter, 1989
Tennessee Arts Commission Folk Arts Program Records, Tennessee State Library & Archives

Colia Streeter had a brother named George, but everyone called him “Sut.” Sut Streeter was also an accomplished guitarist and would often accompany his brother. Sut Streeter rode and trained Tennessee Walking Horses. Sut Streeter's work with horses, growing up in Wartrace (“the Walking Horse Cradle of the World”), and his work as a stable boy for Strolling Jim (the first grand champion walking horse) would later inspire some of the Vannoy Streeter’s art work.

Tennessee Walking Horse wire sculptures by Vannoy Streeter, 1985-1986
Tennessee Arts Commission Folk Arts Program Records, Tennessee State Library & Archives

Colia Streeter died in 1965. According to Robert Cogswell in a 1996 issue of the “Tennessee Folklore Society Bulletin,” Colia Streeter was buried in Wartrace’s African-American cemetery off Haley Road. While no known recordings of Colia Streeter's music exist, his style lives on in the musicians he influenced over the years. An excerpt from an article, “Roy Harper: The Ways of the Past,” by Charles Wolfe in Vol. 1, No. 5, of “The Old-Time Herald” details Harper’s recollections of Colia Streeter’s music:

“He wasn’t just a straight blues picker -- he could work in all different styles, including fingerpicking. He was from down at Wartrace, but he was well known in Shelbyville and Murfreesboro. He was a favorite of the upper crust there, well-to-do white folks. They’d get him to play for their card parties or card games, and even for their rooster fights.”

Roy Harper, a musician who often credited Colia Streeter as one of his early influences, is photographed with his hand-painted guitar case on a railroad track in Coffee County (photograph by Dean Dixon), 2008
Tennessee Arts Commission Folk Arts Program Records, Tennessee State Library & Archives

Vannoy “Wireman” Streeter was the oldest of six children born to Ludie Vannoy and Colia Streeter. He was born Aug. 27, 1919 in Manchester, but grew up in Wartrace. Growing up in poverty gave him the inspiration that started him on his road to famous folk artist. When Vannoy Streeter was little, his parents could not afford toys for him or his siblings. He studied toys in store windows and decided to make his own. Vannoy Streeter used a material that was free and readily available to him - bailing wire. He and his cousin Willie would gather left over wire that people threw out after bailing their hay. They would use the wire to make toys for themselves and others. The first recipients of Vannoy Streeter’s sculptures were his mother and siblings.

Wire sculptures of a bicycle, a car, a truck and an airplane by Vannoy Streeter, 1986
Tennessee Arts Commission Folk Arts Program Records, Tennessee State Library & Archives

Vannoy Streeter started working outside his home at the age of 16 and had many careers in his lifetime. He broke and trained horses, laid tracks for the railroad, worked in a lumberyard, was a janitor at Wartrace High School and served as an orderly for the Bedford County Hospital in Shelbyville. Through it all, he continued to make his wire sculptures and work around horses. Each year, he would use his two weeks vacation from his job to work at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration.

Vannoy Streeter bending wire for one of his sculptures at his home in Shelbyville, 1985
Tennessee Arts Commission Folk Arts Program Records, Tennessee State Library & Archives

Vannoy Streeter married Ezella Marie McLean on June 8, 1965. Marie Streeter had eight children previous to the marriage and Vannoy Streeter raised her children as his own. They made their home in Shelbyville. Vannoy Streeter died on May 13, 1998.

Vannoy Streeter holding one of his sculptures at his home in Shelbyville, 1985
Tennessee Arts Commission Folk Arts Program Records, Tennessee State Library & Archives

While many artists do not see fame in their lifetime, Vannoy Streeter was fortunate enough to see his work celebrated. In 1987, his wire sculptures were displayed at the inauguration dinner for Gov. Ned McWherter. In 1990, Vannoy Streeter was a demonstrating artist at the National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta. In 1991, he was named Heritage Craftsman by the Southern Highland Handicraft Guild. April 25, 1992, was proclaimed “Vannoy Streeter Day” by the City of Shelbyville. Vannoy Streeter made the “Smitty” awards for the W. O. Smith Community Music School (Paul Simon and Jimmy Buffett were among the recipients). His work has been displayed all over the world, most notably at the White House and the United States Embassy in Beijing.

For more information on the Streeters, take a look at the Tennessee Arts Commission Folk Arts Program Records at the Library & Archives:

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Effort to Digitize World War I Artifacts Heads to Blount County

Over a five-year period, World War I ravaged Europe, the Middle East and parts of north Africa, overturning governments and costing millions of lives. The United States joined the battle in 1917, eventually mobilizing 130,000 soldiers from Tennessee. Countless other Tennesseans helped relief organizations like the Red Cross, organized scrap metal drives, manufactured war materials and provided other support for the war effort on the homefront.

The Tennessee State Library & Archives has launched a major effort to collect digital records of how World War I affected Tennesseans. Archivists will be traveling throughout the state to digitally scan and photograph documents, maps, photographs, uniforms and other artifacts related to World War I that are owned by private citizens.

The project, called “Over Here, Over There: Tennesseans in the First World War,” is similar to one the Library & Archives has conducted to digitally record Civil War memorabilia.

“We were overwhelmed by the response to our request for Civil War items, so we hope this project will help us create a rich record of World War I history as well,” Secretary of State Tre Hargett said. “Creating digital records of historical artifacts makes them easily available to anyone with internet access. It’s important that we do this now, before more of these century-old items are lost or damaged beyond repair.”

The next event will be held at the Blount County Public Library, co-hosted by the library and the Blount County Archives. Items will be digitally recorded from 3 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. (EST) Feb. 22 and from 9 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. (EST) Feb. 23. The library is located at 508 N. Cusick St. in Maryville. During the event, the archivists will not actually take possession of the items from the owners, but will provide tips on how to care for these rare treasures.

People living in East Tennessee are encouraged to bring in letters, photographs, diaries, military records, maps, sketches, weapons, uniforms and other items related to the war. All items must be original – no photocopies or reproductions – and owned by the person bringing them to the event.

To reserve time with an archivist on one of those dates, email or call (615) 741-1883.

This is the third of several digitization events being held around the state, but the first in East Tennessee. The schedule of upcoming digitization events and other information about the project will be available at

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Library & Archives to Sponsor National History Bee Regional Finals

The Tennessee State Library and Archives has entered into a partnership to sponsor a regional final for National History Bee, an academic quiz competition that attracts tens of thousands of participating students each year.

In National History Bee, elementary and middle school students compete against each other by answering questions about United States and world history. In order to qualify for one of the regional finals, students must first perform well in competitions at their individual schools and then complete online exams.

The regional final in Nashville will be held Feb. 10 from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. CST at Tennessee State University’s Avon Williams campus. The campus is located at 330 10th Ave. N. in downtown Nashville and free on-site parking will be available.

There will be three levels of competition – one for fourth- through sixth-graders, one for seventh-graders and another for eighth-graders. There will also be three rounds at each level, with the top performers advancing to the national finals in Atlanta June 2 through June 4.

Academic Competition Enterprises (ACE), an organization devoted to promote academic excellence by making learning fun, administers National History Bee, a program that was launched in 2012.

“We want the Library and Archives to play an important role in encouraging history education for young Tennesseans,” Secretary of State Tre Hargett said. “By sponsoring History Bee in addition to History Day, we can reach children at earlier ages and also those who want to compete in different formats. What is most important to us is that we help as many students as possible develop an appreciation and enthusiasm for history that they will hopefully carry with them throughout their lives. We thank Tennessee State University and Academic Competition Enterprises for working with us to create this partnership.”

National History Bee is separate and independent from Tennessee History Day, another academic-oriented competition co-sponsored by the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office for the last several years.

"ACE is proud to be partnering with the Tennessee State Library & Archives to bring the National History Bee regional finals to Nashville,” said Eric Huff, National History Bee’s director. “We are passionate about using competition to celebrate young people and their academic accomplishments. This event will allow us to recognize many wonderful students who make learning a priority."

History Day is targeted toward middle and high school students, who participate by submitting history-themed exhibits, documentaries, websites, research papers and live performances for judging. Students who participate in History Bee are encouraged to participate in History Day when they reach the older grades. The History Bee regional finals are free and open to the public.

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State