Oak Ridge Tennessee: A buffet of history
The history of the atomic bomb takes place across the country. The plutonium was produced at Hanford, Washington, and the Trinity Site in New Mexico was the test site. But it is Oak Ridge Tennessee, with the moniker of the Secret City, which has the most atomic heritage to see and explore. But there are other historic events that took place in the surrounding areas. Oak Ridge and Anderson County offer a buffet of historical events.
Black HistoryLike much of the south, integration of the public schools was slow and at great cost. But at the Green McAdoo Cultural Center and Museum the story unfolds with a cast of heroes of all ages and colors. And, as with all dramas, a villain.
It was a time of segregation. The United States Supreme Court had sanctioned it with a decision that declared separate but equal educational facilities sufficient. But in 1956 they overturned that decision with Brown v. Board of Education. Separate was inherently unequal. Schools in the south were told to integrate, and do so as speedily as possible.
Clinton, Tennessee took the ruling seriously, and twelve black students, sometimes called the Clinton 12, decided to attend the formerly all white high school. Their walk into the building was also a walk into history. They were the first students to desegregate a state-supported high school in the south.
The sculpture out front -- life-size bronze statues of the students and engraved with the words of Rev. Paul Turner, a local Baptist minister -- greet visitors to the renovated school building that houses the The Green McAdoo Cultural Center and Museum. The film and exhibits inside tell the story of tenacity, heroism, and an outside agitator.
The students and the community generally agreed that the law should be obeyed. At first, integration went smoothly, but soon outsiders arrived with the sole purpose of fomenting hatred and violence.
It took the attack and beating of Rev. Paul Turner, a staunch advocate of rights of these young people to receive an education in the town's high school, that finally and slowly began to change the atmosphere.
Sadly, the historic high school was destroyed by fire set by retaliating white supremacists, but the community pulled together once again, refurbishing an abandoned elementary school to keep classes going, still integrated.
Even earlier black history can be found in the Wheat African Burial Ground. The markings are gone except for some chunks of rock that might once have been grave stones. The cemetery is believed to hold over 90 graves. There is a monument in memory to those buried there and it is clearly visited by people leaving items of remembrance.
Coal Mining HistoryCoal Creek in Anderson, Tennessee was a mining town. But In the aftermath of the Civil War, southern states were allowed to lease convicts as forced labor. Coal mining was one of the industries in which these hapless workers ended up. Mine conditions were always grim, but with convicts who had no rights and no recourse, the conditions were worse. This unwilling labor force also meant less work for the free miners in the community and higher casualties as inexperienced convicts worked dangerous mines. It also undercut attempts to upgrade conditions and enhance safety.
Tension between the free miners and the government troops simmered, sometimes breaking out into fighting. When the Coal Creek War was over, the free miners and their towns prospered. One of these towns was Fraterville. But on May 19th in 1902, the Fraterville Mine exploded. Not everyone died instantly, some survived the explosion but weren't found by rescuers in time. These men perished as their air ran out. Ten of the men lived up to seven hours, and left messages behind for their loved ones.
Then, on December 9, 1911, the Cross Mountain Mine exploded. This time, several men survived and were found by rescuers, but many, once again, left farewell notes to their loved ones. One of the miners who died, Condy Harmon was the son of Powell Harmon who perished at Fraterville. The father's quite literally dying words, scribed on paper, were My boys, never work in the coal mines..
The history of coal mining in this country is founded in the history of the families of Coal Creek, and those areas around the country. Efforts are underway to create a Coal Creek Mining Trail but currently the only places open to the public are the cemeteries.
Cemeteries where these miners are buried are marked with "Coal Creek Mine Disaster Burial Site" signs. The starting point for a self-guided visit is the Longfield Cemetery, located on the north side of Norris Freeway, 0.3 miles east of I-75 exit 128 in Lake City, TN.
Thirty-six of the miners from the Fraterville disaster are buried there, including Powell Harmon, and Jacob Vowell whose last message included the poignant words Oh God, for one more breath. Ellen, remember me as long as you live. Goodbye darling. It is impossible to visit the cemetery, knowing the history without paying homage with a moment of silence for the men and boys of Coal Creek.
For more information contact Oak Ridge Convention and Visitors Bureau or call 865-482-7821. For Anderson County visit Yallcome.org or call 800-524-3602.