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Miles Vandahurst Lynk and the University of West Tennessee

13 Jun

My dissertation research on historically Black college and university (HBCU) architecture often leads me to places I did not expect.  It often leads me to defunct HBCUs, and one of these schools is the University of West Tennessee. I first discovered this school several years ago while reading GP Hamilton’s The Bright Side of Memphis book. This book featured a quick history of the school and its founder Miles V. Lynk. This past spring while researching the UWT I quickly discovered how intertwined the school and its founder actually were. You see in many ways Miles V. Lynk was the school and he also happened to be a native of Haywood County, TN.

              Miles V. Lynk

Lynk had quite the exciting life as detailed in his autobiography, Sixty Years of Medicine; Or, The Life and Times of Dr. Miles V. Lynk, an Autobiography.

A few quick facts about Lynk,

He was born in Haywood County, TN on June 3, 1871, to formerly enslaved parents

He received his certificate to teach school in Haywood County at the age of 13.

At the age of 17, he enrolled at Meharry Medical College.

He was named after two CME Church bishops, William Henry Miles and Richard H. Vandahurst

He published the first medical journal for African American physicians known as The Medical and Surgical Observer

In 1900 he founded the University of West Tennessee in Jackson, TN and later relocated the school to Memphis in 1907.

The State of Tennessee honored him and the University of West Tennessee with a historical marker in 1996 in Memphis at McLemore and Krayer Streets.

 

 

 His autobiography details his life growing up on a farm outside of Brownsville, TN. In the text, he describes the death of his father and his quest to find employment as a school teacher before enrolling at Meharry Medical College. Because he was looking for employment in Fayette County, Tennessee, Lynk soon discovered that his teaching certificate would only be accepted if he could find a white man to refer him.  Of this experience, Lynk stated, “That struck me like a bombshell as I had never been in the employ of a white man; in fact, my abhorrence for slavery was so great that I would never hire to one for money” (24). One of the men that Lynk reached out to for a reference happened to be the man who enslaved his father who then refused to give him a reference. Lynk described how this encounter influenced him and how he prayed to the Lord that he’d never have to do anything like it again.

 

 

By 1908 when the University of West Tennessee relocated to Memphis and was featured in GP Hamilton’s The Bright Side of Memphis Hamilton described the school as “two commodious and well-arranged buildings known as North and South Hall respectively… The grounds and buildings are valued at $15,000” (258). However, according to reports the school struggled and found itself described as “without merit” and “ineffectual” according to a report known as the Flexner Report written in 1910 which provided detailed accounts of medical schools.

 

 

Despite this, the UWT graduated about 155 students before closing in 1924. After living a very accomplished life, Lynk passed away in Memphis on December 29, 1956, at age of eighty-six.

 

Article on the University of West Tennessee in the Memphis, TN newspaper The News Scimitar January 16, 1920

Google Map showing the University of West Tennessee Historical Marker at the corner of McLemore and Krayer Streets

 

-Tiffany

 

Sources:

Flexner, Abraham. “Medical Education in the United States and Canada.” New York, New York, 1910. http://archive.carnegiefoundation.org/pdfs/elibrary/Carnegie_Flexner_Report.pdf.

 

 

Hamilton, Green Polonius. The Bright Side of Memphis: A Compendium of Information Concerning the Colored People of Memphis, Tennessee, Showing Their Achievements in Business, Industrial and Professional Life and Including Articles of General Interest on the Race. Memphis, Tennessee, 1908.

 

 

Lynk, Miles V. Sixty Years of Medicine;: Or, The Life and Times of Dr. Miles V. Lynk, an Autobiography. Twentieth Century Press, 1951.

 

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Camp Shiloh – Memphis, TN

7 Mar

Camp Shiloh, also known as The Colored People’s Camp, in Memphis, TN was a contraband camp for runaway slaves during the Civil War. Camp Shiloh was located in South Memphis. It is thought that due to the camp being majority female that their spouses had enlisted in the United States Colored Troops and that some were stationed at nearby Ft. Pickering. Camp Shiloh had over 300 houses as well as schools and churches. In 1863 a list was taken of the former slaves living there. The list was known was the Register of Freedmen. On the list were the names of the slaves and their ages, their occupation, the names of their former owners, their health status, and where they were from. I scanned the list for the names of slaves from our area and some of that information is below. I have copied the names exactly as they were listed, so some names may be spelled incorrectly.

You can search for other names on this list by clicking the following link.

http://www.lastroadtofreedom.com/documents/12.pdf

 

Ellen Buchanan 33

  • Owned by Mary Maclin of Haywood County, TN

Winnie Clay 45, Washington Clay 20, Vina Clay 18

  • Owned by Joseph Clay of Haywood County, TN

Jane Carter 40, Emily Carter 18, Sandy Carter 10, Buck Carter 6

  • Owned by Samuel Oldham of Haywood County, TN

Mary Curry 38

  • Owned by James Curry of Haywood County, TN

Albert Cox 42

  • Owned by Samuel Cox of Haywood County, TN

Carolina Burton 30, Alice Burton, Mark Burton 8

  • Owned by John Burton of Haywood County, TN

Margaret Green 26

  • Owned by John Drake of Haywood County, TN

Lutisia Miller 18

  • Owned by William Miller of Haywood County, TN

Ann McLamore 18

  • Owned by Sugar McLamore of Haywood County, TN

Angeline Noel 20

  • Owned by Joseph Clay of Haywood County, TN

Caroline Olden 55, Amelia Olden 10, Isabel Olden 18, Nellie Olden 63

  • Owned by Samuel Olden of Haywood County, TN

Ann Reed 24

  • Owned by John Burton of Haywood County, TN

I became interested in the lives of these former slaves after the end of the Civil War. Did they stay in Memphis or did they return back to Haywood County? I found a few leads, such as an Albert Cox living in Haywood County in 1870 on the US Census, but of course there is no definite way to determine that this was the same Albert Cox who had been at the Shiloh Camp.

 

– Tiffany

Sources: Register of Freedmen – http://www.lastroadtofreedom.com/documents/12.pdf

Information on TN Contraband Camps – http://tennesseeencyclopedia.net/entry.php?rec=305 and http://lastroadtofreedom.org/uploads/3/1/1/7/3117447/tennessee.pdf

 

Freedom Summer 1964

25 Jun

This summer marks the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer. Freedom Summer was a massive undertaking that sought to register as many African American voters in the state of Mississippi as possible. The groups behind Freedom Summer sought as many individuals, mainly students, to participate in the activities. These activities included voter registration, Freedom Schools, and community centers in Mississippi to encourage voter registration and education. It was without a doubt a dangerous job to take with 3 volunteers killed at the very start of Freedom Summer. Knowing that the 50th Anniversary was approaching I decided to see if I could find participants from West Tennessee. I found the following names listed on the Wisconsin Historical Society website.

 

1. Gloria Bishop – Memphis, TN – Volunteer – Assigned to Canton/Madison County, Mississippi Rural

2. Rev. Edward L Brown – Memphis, TN – Volunteer – Clergy sponsored by the National Council of Churches

3. Ed Hamlett – Jackson, TN – Volunteer – White Community Project

4. James Nance – Trenton, TN – Volunteer – Assigned to Hattiesburg, Mississippi

5. Jewelene Owens – Memphis, TN – Volunteer – Assigned to Jackson, Mississippi – Voter Registration

6. Gwendolyn Robinson – Memphis, TN – Volunteer – Assigned to Laurel, Mississippi – Freedom Center

6. Rev. William SMith – Memphis, TN – Volunteer – Clergy sponsored by the National Council of Churches

 

I do not believe that the list provided by the Wisconsin Historical Society is conclusive. There certainly could have been more participants from West Tennessee as there were 1000+ volunteers. What is known is that these participating individuals were very brave to fight to secure the fundamental right to vote for African Americans in Mississippi. At the conclusion of the summer 1600 African Americans were successfully registered. While that may not seem like a large number it truly was given the type of place Mississippi was at the time. The next year in 1965 President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act which sought to protect individuals from discrimination at the voting polls.

 

– Tiffany

Source – Wisconsin Historical Society

Jet Magazine – August 27, 1959

7 Jul

Jet Magazine Aug 27, 1959

Jet Magazine Aug 27, 1959

According to US Census Records for 1940 Willie Jones lived with his siblings Minnie and Walter Jones and his mother Mary Jones. His occupation was listed as that of an unpaid family worker. On the 1930 US Census he is listed as also living with his father Andrew and several more siblings. I found no listing for him on the Lynching Calender, but of course that source is not complete. For now it’s unclear what happened to Willie, but I do hope that he got his day in court (although court in 1959 was far from fair justice) instead of meeting his death at the hands of a vigilante mob. Quick thinking on behalf of his former lawyer, J. F. Estes, and the unidentified informant may have just saved Willie’s life. I did find several Willie M. Jones in the Social Security Death Index who could possibly be the Willie M. Jones mentioned in this case. They all lived to 1972 or later, so maybe he served his time and was released.

 

 

 

– Tiffany

– Source: Jet Magazine August 27, 1959 edition

Newspaper Clippings – The Commercial Appeal Jan 1, 1857

7 Jul
Dr. Robard - The Commercial Appeal Jan 1, 1857

Dr. Robard – The Commercial Appeal Jan 1, 1857

 

Very interesting article. Of course The Commercial Appeal is a Memphis newspaper, but I wonder if any of our West Tennessee people had the chance to see Dr. Robard and if he in fact was able to “cure” them.

– Tiffany

– Source: The Commercial Appeal Jan 1, 1857 edition

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Black Life in Ripley, TN

4 May

#3 Father of the Blues WC Handy and his band used to perform at the Annual Confederate Veteran’s Picnic in Confederate Park

WC Handy

WC Handy

WC Handy, Father of the Blues, made his way to Ripley, Tennessee in 1907 with his band to play for our Confederate Veterans at their annual reunion picnic. According to the story there used to be a park known as Confederate Park not too far from Walker’s Motel on Highway 51. Each year the local Confederate Veterans would gather here and host a barbeque picnic. The entertainment for the picnic varied, but about 1907 they were able to get WC Handy to perform. Handy and his band would go one to perform at several of these picnics in later years. What would he have played at the picnic in 1907 and after? I’m sure he would have played “Mr. Crump aka The Memphis Blues” or “The St. Louis Blues”. He might have also played “Yellow Dog Blues” or “The Beale Street Blues”.

It is interesting to note that Handy was the son of former slaves playing at a reunion picnic for Confederate Veterans. Oh the irony! Nevertheless, I am positive he put on a good show and that a good time was had by all. Was Lauderdale County’s most famous Black Confederate Veteran Louis Napoleon Nelson in attendance? I’m sure he was.

Today WC Handy is honored in Memphis with a park bearing his name. His Memphis home has been turned into a museum and is appropriately located on Beale Street.

 

 

– Tiffany

– Source: Lauderdale County from its Earliest Times by Kate Johnston Peters

West Tennessee Mysteries – Bessie Coleman Visits Memphis, TN

3 May

This is the first edition of the West Tennessee Mysteries series and it is coming to us courtesy of Memphis, TN. If you have a mystery you would like to see featured here, please feel free to contact me.

Bessie Coleman’s Memphis Visit

Bessie Coleman

Bessie Coleman

Bessie Coleman was the world’s first African American female pilot. On October 12, 1922 Bessie Coleman flew in Memphis, TN in front of a crowd at the Tri-State Fair. Coleman refused to fly for segregated crowds, so her show in Memphis had to be integrated. Thousands of people came out to see Coleman perform and the Memphis show was considered a success. A few mysteries remain about Coleman’s trip to Memphis. While at a luncheon Coleman’s trip was brought to my attention by a woman who was interested in learning more about it. She was interested in knowing where Coleman stayed, what might she have visited while in Memphis, and most importantly she was looking for a photograph from the Memphis event. The Memphis Commercial Appeal had written a short article about Coleman’s visit, but they only used a stock photograph of her and not one from the actual event.

Through looking in the 1922 Polk Memphis City Directory I was able to pull a list of hotels. This directory did not identify which hotels were for African Americans, but I recognized a few of the hotel names.

Marquette Hotel

Plaza Hotel

I also used the directory to find newspapers of this time that might have covered the story.

The Commercial Appeal

The Daily News

The Memphis Press

The News Scimitar

The Southern Sentinel

Labor Review

Progressive Farmer

The last two newspapers probably wouldn’t have carried a story on Coleman’s visit, but they were newspapers available to Memphians at the time.

It makes me wonder if any of the people from our favorite West Tennessee Towns would have made the journey to Memphis, TN to attend the Tri-State Fair and see Bessie Coleman.

So the mystery remains, where did Bessie Coleman sleep while in Memphis? Where did she keep her plane? How long was she in Memphis for the performance? What restaurants, churches, night clubs, or stores would she have visited? Will we ever be able to put together an itinerary of her visit?

I look forward to finding out more about her visit and sharing it with you all.

 

 

– Tiffany

– Source: Google Images