Very simply, we are a volunteer organization that seeks to build unity within our community through activities, projects, partnerships and collaborations which lift up and celebrate diversity, inclusion and appreciation, and respect for our differences.
We welcome your interest and invite you to contact us if you would like to join our efforts.
The organization was established in 2008 by then city mayor, Barbara “Sami” Barile as the Mayor’s Task Force on Diversity. In 2010 we became part of the Rose Center family of organizations and changed our name to Morristown Task Force on Diversity. We are currently working toward 501c status.
Although we are not operated by city government, we continue to maintain significant connection with that entity and see our work within the context of building awareness and relationships within our community as public service and commitment to justice. We believe this is best done by celebrating the gifts that the diversity of our population provides.
Opening ourselves to learn about others and be able to celebrate differences is especially important for our population and history.
To acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of our community and to promote acceptance and understanding among its residents.
To make Morristown a city where all individuals are equally valued solely “by the content of their character,” and are welcomed and celebrated for the uniqueness they contribute to the community.
Promoting unity within the community
The ethnic basis of Morristown, the county seat of Hamblen County, is that 80% of our population traces its heritage to Europe, primarily Scotland, Ireland and England. 16% of our population is Spanish-speaking with origins in the Southern Hemisphere. 4% of the population counts its heritage as primarily African-American.
Interestingly, one hundred forty years ago, Hamblen County had a significant number of free, black landowners. And, our community remembers with both nostalgia and some pride, those years when Morristown College, a historic and important black college, was vibrant and active. The college was founded in 1881 by the national Freedman’s Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church. The school was renamed Knoxville College-Morristown in 1989 and closed in 1994.
A cooperative plan by the city and developers is in the works to convert Judson’s Hill, the old Morristown College campus, into a combined use area for different kinds of housing, shops and a community center. The plan is to find ways of preserving and incorporating the heritage of Morristown College into the plan.
All of this is to say that relationships between all people of color and white residents in Hamblen County have been complex. Black residents of Morristown knew and experienced the same prejudice and denial of civil rights that is part of our nation’s history. At the same time, planted in this region, was both a lifestyle and an institution that created opportunity and trained its students for success and position in the larger society. It was, quite literally, a light shining from a hill – Judson’s Hill.
The rapid growth of the Spanish-speaking population in Hamblen County has brought some of the same incorporation issues that can be found in other parts of the country. Likewise, our community is enriched and broadened in learning about the different cultural features of one another.
The economic bases of our community until the late 1940’s were twofold. They were farming (especially tobacco growing) and small, family-owned businesses. Light industrial manufacturing began to arrive after WWII.
The greatest growth happened in the 1970’s and 1980’s as international businesses began establishing manufacturing plants here. Now, seventeen different countries are represented in our industrial base. When one goes to the grocery store, one hears different languages and sees products from around the world. Our health system is populated by professionals who come from around the world.
With such a significant portion of our population having roots outside our community, it would be easy to assume that there are few issues of inclusion in our community. But as elsewhere, there are faces and voices that are not heard often in governance, leadership or decision making. As elsewhere, there are some who can celebrate the differences in people and others who cannot.
We believe that recognizing the culture and differences of our people creates a mechanism for greater understanding and appreciation. Finding ways to gather and learn about others lowers the level of fear and suspicion and adds both depth and breadth to our community.
Sometimes, confrontation about issues related to intolerance is essential. However, we believe that in the longer term, celebrating our gifts, our histories, our experiences and our cultures opens pathways to long-lasting cooperation and the kind of deep respect that benefit all.
So…this Task Force is composed of a group of people who see building relationships, cultural awareness and diversity as adding value and strength to our community. We are a stronger, fairer, more cooperative and healthier community when we can work and play and learn together.
The year was 1920. Nashville was blistering hot. The all-male Tennessee legislature was meeting in order to decide whether to ratify the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. If this amendment were ratified, it would bring a change that would grant women the right to vote.
Legislators in favor of ratification wore a yellow rose in their lapel, an indication of a promise to ratify. Those opposed wore a red rose in their lapel, a sure sign of voting it down. The roll call had landed on Harry T. Burn, who at 24, was the youngest state lawmaker. He had voted twice to table the amendment. On his lapel was a red rose. But beneath the rose, in the pocket of his suit jacket, was a letter delivered that morning from his mother, Febb Burn.
Between updates on the farm and the family, she had slipped in three references to the vote.On page 2 of the letter, Febb wrote to her son, “Hurrah and vote for suffrage, and don’t keep them in doubt.”On page four, referring to reelection, she wrote, “I hope you see enough of politicians to know it is not one of the greatest things to be one. What say ye??”And on page six: “Don’t forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. ‘Thomas Catt’ with her ‘rats.’ (A reference to the President of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt) Is she the one that put “rat” in ratification? Ha! No more from Mama this time. With lots of love.”
Katie Mettler, an assignment reporter for The Washington Post, has written an engaging and moving article titled “A Mother’s Letter, a Son’s Choice and the Incredible Moment Women won the Vote.” The article includes a report of the arguments against women’s right to vote.
It is hard to read the words and not be angered by the underlying attitudes they represent. There are photos and and interesting follow up on the trajectory of the lives of the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Harry Burn. Overarching all, are the words and love of Febb Burn, Harry’s mother. Until his death in 1977, Burn treasured his mother’s letter. It was donated to the C. M. McClung Museum in Knoxville, alongside the rest of his personal papers. In those papers was another cherished document that McMinn County did not update before 900 women registered to vote in October 1920. Febb Burns was first in line. “THIS IS TO CERTIFY That Mrs. J.L. Burn is a Legal Voter,” her card read. “His Registration No. is 1.”
The Role of Black Women
August 18, 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, the Constitutional Amendment which guaranteed all American women the right to vote – in theory. However, Jim Crow voter suppression laws made it impossible for Black women to vote until President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the 1965 Voting Rights Act…just 55 years ago.
The dominant narrative about the Women’s Suffrage Movement has been viewed through the experiences of white women, to our shame. We must not forget the continuous and major role that African-American women played in obtaining the right to vote in 1920 and how they persisted and continue to persist in the struggle for human equality.
Black women marched alongside white women, attended and spoke at suffrage conventions. They wrote books and published tracts and organized groups and inspired women all over the country to press for the vote.
Many African-American women who began their activism as abolitionists, became nationally known as Suffragettes. Their names are heralded today: Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Coralee Cook, Angelina Grimke, Charlotta Rollin, Mary Ann Shad Cary, Ida B. Wells, Mary Church Terrell, Anna Julia Cooper, Rosa Parks, Charlotte Vandine Forten, Harriet Forten Purvis, Margaretta Forten, Sarah Remond, Josephine St Pierre Ruffin, Nannie Helen Burroughs, Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer and Diane Nash.
First emerging in the 1820’s, women have been deeply engaged in social and cultural movements for civil rights. Many of those originally involved in the Abolitionist Movement moved from there into Women’s Suffrage and into the movement for humane labor laws pertaining especially to children and women and from there into the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s. In all of these movements, racial discrimination and prejudice created obstacles and gulfs—a few of which were overcome, but the deepest were not. That being said, today’s world is decidedly different. Movements around the world find women of amazing diversity working together for the well being of all.
Nsenga K.. Burton is an award-winning professor, journalist, filmmaker and producer. She has written a very readable and short reflection about 19 very significant Black women who were part of Women’s Suffrage Movement. It is an enlightening read.
If asked, when would you say “freedom” was granted to those whose ancestors were brought to the colonies as enslaved people? Would you respond January 1, 1863 when the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect? Ah, but those states that had seceded from the Union did not recognize the Emancipation Proclamation and were engaged in ongoing and brutal battle to have their own government apart from the United States.
We just celebrated “Juneteenth” – June 19, 1865, when, at last, the news of Confederate surrender and emancipation reached Texas. The announcement was accompanied by many Union troops, among them units of black soldiers wearing Union uniforms. What about emancipation in border states – border states like Tennessee?
During the early days of the Civil War, there were a number of states located between the Union and the newly declared Confederacy. Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri remained border states throughout the Civil War. Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virgina were originally considered border states and the great divisions of sentiment in those states, as well as the bloody battles fought in those states created hostilities that remain among their peoples to this day.
However, pro-Union eastern Kentucky and East Tennessee considered themselves part of the Union…and themselves, a border people. So, for some time, they carried an understanding that the Emancipation Proclamation did not apply to them. In fact, in 1862, President Lincoln appointed then Tennessee Senator, Andrew Johnson of Greeneville, Tennessee, as the Military Governor of Tennessee.
On August 8, 1863, Johnson freed the slaves he held in Tennessee and in 1871, Emancipation Day in Tennessee was celebrated for the first time. To this day, a number of East Tennessee counties celebrate August 8th as Emancipation Day. You can read about our unique Emancipation Day at the Tennessee Historical Association website
In 2007, the Tennessee General Assembly designated August 8 or “Emancipation Day” as a day of special observance. August 8 has been celebrated in Tennessee as “Emancipation Day” or “8 of 8” since 1871. That very first celebration was organized in Greenville, Tennessee by Sam Johnson. Sam Johnson was free that day in 1871, but it had not always been so. Former President of the United States, Andrew Johnson was the guest speaker. At one time, Sam belonged to Andrew Johnson. Sam Johnson was forty-eight years old in 1871. He had lived as a free man for only eight years. Sam was the first enslaved person that Andrew Johnson purchased. On November 29, 1842, the day he was purchased, Sam was 13 years old. Several weeks later, on January 3, 1843, Andrew Johnson purchased Sam’s half-sister, Dolly, who was 19 years old at the time.
Executive Director of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center hosts this reflection on Emancipation Day – 8th of August. The video is about 30 minutes. It features people whose families passed along the stories of emancipation as it happened in Tennessee.
The United States lost two Civil Rights icons on the same day, yesterday, July 17, 2020. Both men died within hours of the celebration of Nelson Mandela’s birthday. Read something of their stories at:
May angels lead him into Paradise; may martyrs receive him into Heavenly Jerusalem; may choirs of angels sing him into the Eternal Habitations and may he hear the voice of the Holy One say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” And may we be so moved by his example that we seek and stir up “good trouble!” Thank you, Congressman John Lewis!