Skip to content
Brownsville Tennessee is celebrating 200 years as a city in 2024

Black History Contributions

by John Ashworth

On November 24, 1824, the Tennessee General Assembly passed an act to incorporate the town of Brownsville. Throughout 2024 Brownsvillians will celebrate, recognize, memorialize, reflect, and most importantly learn from the past two-hundred years, while living in the present, and preparing for the future. The city has appropriately adopted the Bicentennial Theme: A Journey Through Our History – A Pathway to Progress.

 

It is a journey and pathway shaped by the intersection of two very distinct cultures: African and European. The history is well known. It is perhaps the tortuous merging of those two cultures that has contributed to and gives rise to the dynamic opportunity and a seemingly unlimited bright future for Brownsville, and Haywood County.

 

Part of learning from the past, and living in the present, with an eye on the future means embracing all our history during this Bicentennial Year. Much of the history of our community has been shaped by those from the African continent who arrived enslaved. As the late Dr. Sterling Stuckey, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, University of California  advised “We need to understand that African slaves, through largely self‐generative activity, molded their new environment at least as much as they were molded by it.”

Museums across America are beginning to look at the intellect, innovation, and culture of the people of Africa. Africa is not a country, but rather a continent 5,000 miles long from top to bottom, with 1.4 billion people, speaking over two thousand languages,  living in fifty-four countries, with forty-two different currencies, cultures, and customs.

 

African cultures and customs continue to contribute to the seven major art forms: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, Literature, Cinema, Theatre, and Music. These art forms crossed the racial divide and have influenced art in the United States and globally. One could argue that much of the American art form of music and dance, so readily consumed by other peoples around the world is a combination of African and European expression.

 

Few communities our size can claim the substantial number of sons and daughters that have contributed to the national and international music genres of opera, gospel, country, rock, soul, rockabilly, and  blues. Heavily influencing the musicians from this community, regardless of ethnicity, were the enslaved Africans, who arrived with the settlers in large numbers in the early 1800’s. Generations later the descendants of those enslaved Africans continue to influence and make major contributions.   

In addition to the art, there is the appreciation of the beauty of the African people and their descendants. Adanna Nwosu from Nigeria has said, “Africa is home to a vast array of cultures, each with its own distinctive perception of beauty. Traditional African beauty standards often emphasize natural features and highlight a sense of community and unity. These standards value attributes such as dark skin, fuller figures, unique hairstyles, intricate body art, and distinctive facial features.”

Brownsville native and world class art photographer, Jerry Taliaferro, Haywood High School class of 1972, created an international traveling exhibition titled “Women of a New Tribe”. He  describes his black and white photography,  as “it is a photographic study of the physical and spiritual beauty of the Black American Women we see around us every day. The beauty and elegance revealed in these photographs gives a brief peek inside the stories of those who remained in the shadows, but whose contributions were no less important than those whose names and images are emblazoned in the history books.

In 2013, 24 women over the age of seventy-five from Brownsville and Haywood County were made a part of that exhibition titled “Autumn of Grace”, which was exhibited at the Dunbar Carver Museum. In his Artist Statement, Jerry commented,  “. . .The women portrayed in this exhibit are women I revere. I, like many, knew them and their works. I remember these teachers, businesswomen, caregivers, and professionals as the very best of our community. Their courage and steadfastness in challenging times are still shining examples for us all. We are better for having shared time and space with such great human beings”.

In this bicentennial year during February’s Black history month, the “Autumn of Grace” collection, on loan from the Dunbar Carver Museum, will be on display in the lobby of city hall. Exquisite pieces of art and artifacts from the African continent depicting the artistry

 of Africa will also be on display courtesy of Brownsville native African art collectors.

 
Article and Corresponding Image Reprinted Courtesy of Brownsville Press
Written by -

Leslie discovered the power of the pen in the third grade after her family moved to a new school district. Writing became a way to sort out her new surroundings and escape to fantasy landscapes. That child, and voice, has matured into a poet, writer, blogger, journalist, online content creator and editor. Leslie is a social entrepreneur with a demonstrated commitment to community. She is an active community member in Washtenaw County (Michigan) with expertise in social media marketing and content management systems, volunteer coordination and writing and 19 years of experience in the areas of online community management, training, leadership development, and social networking. She is interested in facilitating connection with both community residents and businesses. Through this work, the economy of the community is improved and the organizations are financially successful. Her main mode of advocacy and online community, however, is through writing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *