Remembering Rutherford: First MHA chairman mixed business and family with official duties

Rutherford County Historian Greg Tucker, The Murfreesboro Post, January 24, 2017

It was all in the family!

Federal funding was approved to establish the Murfreesboro Housing Authority in 1950.  The authority was originally created to acquire property for “slum clearance” and to build low-cost housing.  One target area in Murfreesboro was the property between newly-constructed Northwest Broad Street and Lytle Creek, west of South Church Street and east of West Main Street (commonly known as the Bottoms).

The Bottoms, once located south of the historic Public Square in Murfreesboro, was prone to flooding. During Urban Renewal, families were moved out to make way for what is now Broad Street. The ‘shantytown’ was constructed of any materials the low-income residents could find. Shacklett’s Photography

To facilitate the “urban renewal” objective, MHA had the power to condemn and purchase real property determined to be “blighted.”  Property so acquired and not used for construction of low-cost housing could be held, sold or leased at the discretion of MHA.

Mayor Jennings Jones appointed the first MHA commissioners: George Buckner, James Gupton, Weldon Taylor, Herman Jackson and Carl Hickerson.  The MHA commissioners held their first meeting on September 13, 1950, in the offices of Eddie Seddon, attorney, 203 Mason Building, North Spring Street, Murfreesboro.  Seddon acted as attorney for the startup of the authority, and his office was used as the first MHA headquarters.  Hickerson, a Tullahoma native and World War I veteran, was named chairman.

Hickerson had previously served as chairman of the City Recreation Commission and chaired the Middle Tennessee Lions’ Club Expo.  As a young man he had managed a carnival and traveled the “circuit” as far as Australia.  According to his own account, he worked for a time as a Hollywood agent.  He also did some jail time in connection with an alleged livestock theft prior to assuming official duties in Murfreesboro.  He was reportedly “sponsored out” and relocated in Murfreesboro in the early 1940s by local insurance executive Tommy Martin, a mutual of a New York agent who helped many and earned the sobriquet “Mr. Murfreesboro.”

Soon after Hickerson’s appointment as MHA chairman, his son-in-law, Joe B. Jackson, applied for the position of executive director.  (A World War II veteran and native of Chattanooga, Jackson arrived in Murfreesboro after his military discharge to attend Middle Tennessee State College.  There he excelled in three sports and was elected president of the student body.  Graduating in 1949, he married classmate Frances Hickerson.) Notwithstanding the efforts of the chairman, the Authority Board chose to employ attorney Seddon for the position.  When the assistant executive director position was created, Hickerson again unsuccessfully promoted employment for Jackson.

Jackson apparently went to work for his father-in-law in the builders supply business.  (The 1950 Murfreesboro city directory identifies the Home Roofing & Building Co. Inc. with Carl Hickerson as the firm’s president.  According to the 1962 City Directory, Hickerson was president of two separate companies: Home Roofing and Building Co. and Builders Supply, Inc.  The 1962 companies’ offices were on West Castle, and Joe B. Jackson was vice president.  A substantial part of 1950-62 MHA purchases were from the Hickerson companies.  Confronted with conflict-of-interest concerns in 1962, Hickerson promptly resigned from the MHA board.)

In 1957 MHA leased to Jackson the southwest corner of the South Church Street intersection with the new Broad Street.  The 30-year lease set a quarterly rental payment of $490 ($163.33 per month) without any provision for increases.  It also gave Jackson two five-year renewals at his discretion.  The lease was signed on behalf of MHA by Chairman Carl Hickerson.

During the 40-year term of the lease, Jackson’s quarterly rental payment apparently never increased.  He subleased this property on the corner of the county’s busiest intersection (101-05 NW Broad Street, Murfreesboro) to a series of retail businesses, presumably at current market rates.  The first of these, anticipated in the express terms of the MHA lease, was a Sinclair service station (the brand became ARCO in the 1970s).  In the ’80s the tenants were identified in the local business directory as “tire centers.”  A used car dealer was on the property in the early 1990s.  The final sublessee before the expiration of Jackson’s MHA lease was an autoglass service.

When the MHA lease finally expired in 1997, while Jackson was serving as Murfreesboro mayor, the property was cleared of all structures and landscaped by the Housing Authority.  As of 2017, the corner has remained vacant for 20 years.

Rutherford County Historian Greg Tucker may be reached at gregorytucker@bellsouth.net.

Comments are closed