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