Historians search for pieces of Black history

Michelle Willard, the Daily News Journal, February 28, 2017

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Local historians are searching for long lost pieces of African-American history in Rutherford County.

The 1924 11th grade class at Bradley Academy. Standing from left to right, Richinell King, Nevada Crenshaw, Calvin Johnson, Geneva Buford; Seated from left to right, Fruzzie Burrus, George Francis, Lillian Murray, Marie Bright. (Photo: Photo courtesy of Ernestine Tucker)

Rutherford County Archivist John Lodl is on the hunt for copies of The Murfreesboro News, the town’s newspaper for the African-American community.

The paper was printed from the 1920s to 1953 when it folded up shop, Lodl said.

“I’m looking for original copies,” he said.  “I’ve only found about a dozen papers.”

He explained preserving the newspaper in the county archives is important “because it would document a crucial point in history for African-Americans in Murfreesboro, Rutherford County and the nation.”

Mary Ellen Vaughn, the publisher and editor of The Murfreesboro News, would document local news in the African-American community, as well as what prominent black thinkers of the time were saying, Lodl said.

“It kept the African-American community plugged into national and larger issues,” he said.

For another project, MTSU students are trying to preserve the history of African-American education in Rutherford County.

Graduate students in Brenden Martin’s “Essentials of Museum Management” class, in cooperation with the Bradley Academy Museum and Murfreesboro Parks and Recreation, need the public’s help in providing artifacts and identifying people in photographs as they revamp the museums’ exhibit area.

Anyone who would like to assist Martin, Fisher and the students with information or artifacts can contact Martin at 615-898-2643 or [email protected] or Fisher at [email protected].

Rutherford County Archivist John Lodl looks in March 2016 at an issue of The Murfreesboro News from 1957. Lodl is searching for original copies of the black newspaper to preserve in the archives. (Photo: Michelle Willard/DNJ)

Anyone who would like to help Lodl, call the Rutherford County Archives at 615-867-4609.

The exhibit space was developed 16 years ago, but Martin said museum and municipal officials want to broaden the scope of the exhibit.

“As Bradley Academy moves into a new administrative structure, I think they are very interested in expanding their collections,” Martin said.

Presentation of the artifacts is still being discussed, but Martin and project student director Lindsey Fisher said plans include using some existing oral histories from MTSU’s Albert Gore Research Center and the Rutherford County Archives to create short films for more of a multimedia experience.

Martin said Bradley Academy, Holloway High School and other educational venues were “places of empowerment” for the African-American community, which was disempowered by slavery and later by Jim Crow laws that hampered educational enlightenment.

“We are excited for the new additions and changes to highlight the accomplishments of more African-Americans in the community that have not been told or shown to the public,” said Katie Wilson of the Friends of Bradley Academy Museum.

Some existing aspects of the exhibit, such as the arch representing the academy entrance and murals painted by artist Steve Matthews, will remain part of the display.

“We take pride in the historical value of this building and want to give everyone who visits a wonderful and educational experience,” said Vonchelle Stembridge, program coordinator of the Bradley Academy Museum & Cultural Center. “The community is going to be able to view our museum in a new and innovative way.”

Reach Michelle Willard at [email protected] or 615-278-5164 and on Twitter @michwillard.

To help …

Black Newspapers: Jodl Lodl at 615-867-4609

African-American Education: Dr. Bren Martin at 615-898-2643 or [email protected] or Lindsey Fisher at [email protected]

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