Alan Clark

It is that month of the year once again when we recognize the history and achievements of black people in the United States.

This is not a new celebration at all.

The event grew out of “Negro History Week,” the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans.

Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month.

Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating black history.

While the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution passed in 1865 abolished slavery, it was not until 1915 that work had begun on recognizing and promoting the achievements of black Americans and other people of African descent.

They chose the second week of February for this time of recognition to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.

In the decades that followed, mayors of cities across the country began issuing yearly proclamations recognizing Negro History Week.

By the late 1960s, thanks in part to the civil rights movement and a growing awareness of the black identity, Negro History Week had evolved into Black History Month on many college campuses.

It was President Gerald Ford who officially recognized Black History Month in 1976, calling upon the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

There have been plenty of achievements by black citizens of Franklin County that could be recognized, not only in the sports arena, but in scholarships, academics and the arts as well.

Sorris Sims Jr. (1924 - 1995) was the first black and civilian employee hired at the Arnold Engineering Development Complex and the first black city commissioner in Decherd.

During the civil rights movement, Mr Sims worked tirelessly with Athel Estill to register black voters in Decherd.

Townsend School also has a rich history of the education of black citizens in the county.

Townsend School’s namesake, Rev. Anderson Townsend, was a United States veteran of the Civil War, an educator and a local preacher who lived much of his life in Winchester and had an immeasurable impact on Winchester and Franklin County’s education system.

Referred to commonly as “Doc” or D.A., Townsend taught school throughout the county until he retired in 1919.

During his nearly 50-year tenure as an educator, Townsend taught hundreds of students and also advocated for better education and better school facilities for African American children in Franklin County.

You can read more about this pioneer in the Townsend School Heritage Development Plan, published by the Middle Tennessee State University Center for Historic Preservation in 2019.

Talented and personable artist, retired art teacher, singer and now Civil War re-enactor Sunday Perkins was featured last year in this newspaper for her contributions to art and education in Franklin County. Her story can be read in the March 12, 2020, edition for those who are interested.

The list could go on and on, but suffice to say there is a rich history of black citizens’ contributions to Franklin County’s culture and society that are worthy of celebration.

With all we have been through in 2020, I hope we can unite in love and understanding for the benefit of all concerned in 2021 and beyond.

America is a multicultural society full of diverse populations each capable of achievement and creativity for which we may all be proud.

Alan Clark’s regular weekly columns have been published by Lakeway Publishers, Inc., since 2017. They are also available as podcasts on Apple Music.