ocoee region

Black History in the Ocoee Region

Early African-American History

Tennessee State and Library Archives.

Tennessee State and Library Archives.

The first Africans were brought to America in 1619 as indentured servants, which meant they served an amount of time as slaves to pay off their crossing and were released after settling their debt. Unlike indentured servants from Europe, they didn’t enter into this agreement willingly. However, in 1641, the American colonies began to legalize slavery, beginning in Massachusetts, and a racially-based system of slavery was instituted. This was based on the system already in place in the West Indies.

All servants imported and brought into the Country. . . who were not Christians in their native Country. . . shall be accounted and be slaves. All Negro, mulatto and Indian slaves within this dominion. . . shall be held to be real estate. If any slave resists his master. . . correcting such slave, and shall happen to be killed in such correction. . . the master shall be free of all punishment. . . as if such accident never happened. 
— Virginia General Assembly declaration, 1705

The crossing from Africa to the Americas was the Atlantic Slave Trade, also called the Middle Passage. Africans were often prisoners of war sold off to Europeans by their enemies. 15% of Africans died during this voyage due to the horrific conditions of this crossing. Ten million Africans were transported across the Atlantic to the West. 

During the Revolutionary War, both freed and enslaved blacks participated on both sides. As an incentive to join the British, they offered emancipation for the enslaved people who served the Crown. Anti-slavery sentiments began to rise after the Revolutionary War. Importation of slaves from other countries was banned in 1808, but illegal importation continued until 1859. Abolitionists became more vocal beginning in the 1840s. The desire to keep slaves was a primary factor in the secession of the Southern slave-holding states, which started the Civil War.

After the Civil War

During and after the Civil War, several laws, amendments, and proclamations were issued to free slaves and to give rights to African-Americans. However, Reconstruction and Jim Crow laws segregated and restricted the rights of black citizens. Jim Crow Laws was the informal name for various segregation laws. The name was a mockery of people of color, referring to a song and dance done by a white character in blackface called “Jump Jim Crow.”

After black men were given the right to vote, there was immediate backlash in the South. A number of laws were enacted and would last until 1965 and the Civil Rights Movement. These laws were called Jim Crow Laws. The key idea was “separate, but equal.” But this was not the case. Facilities for black people were significantly inferior to those provided for whites, if there were facilities offered at all. Tennessee’s first segregation law was instituted in 1866, mandating separate schools for black and white children. Tennessee would pass 20 laws aimed at perpetuating “separate, but equal,” including separate schools, train cars, mental hospitals, and the right for owners to enforce segregation on their property. Interracial marriage was declared a felony. Multiple lynchings occurred in our region, including the lynching of Alfred Blount in 1893. He was beaten, stabbed, and hung off the Walnut Street Bridge in Chattanooga. In 1906, Ed Johnson was also hung from the Walnut Street Bridge after being accused of sexual assault of a white woman, then shot. His last words were: “God bless you all. I am a [sic] innocent man.”

The Negro LeaguE

Willie Mays baseball card. 1952.

Willie Mays baseball card. 1952.

Baseball teams, as well, were segregated, reguiring people of color to play in the Negro League. Cleveland’s Negro League was called the Cleveland Indians, later the Cleveland Hurricanes, and also called the Cleveland All-Stars. Chattanooga had the Chattanooga Choo-Choos, a team on which famed baseball player Willie Mays played. 

Civil Rights Movement

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Crowds gathered around peaceful protests at sit-ins in downtown Chattanooga. 1960. Chattanooga History Center.

 By the 1950s, people of color began to resist these racist policies. In 1955, Chattanooga started the Interracial Advisory Committee to begin a slow integration of schools. However, a tear gas bomb was dropped at the first meeting and desegregation was postponed. In the same year, The Cleveland Journal was started by Reverend William Cox and Robert Ramsey to serve Cleveland’s black community. 

 In 1960, James R. Mapp filed a suit against the Chattanooga School Board to move his children to an all-white school, spurring talk of desegregation once again. Also in 1960, Howard High School students organize peaceful sit-ins at stores in downtown Chattanooga. They were following the example of protests begun in Greensboro and Nashville against segregated lunch counters. Black individuals would sit at “whites only” lunch counters, a form of peaceful protest. In Chattanooga, the high school students were refused service, but they read textbooks and bibles and ate snacks from home. They had a few rules, including:“please be on best behavior,” “no loud talking,” “no profanity,” and “try to make small purchase.” The Chattanooga police and fire department used fire hoses to disperse the crowds that had gathered. This was the first time this method was used and would be used later by police departments to break up other peaceful protests.

COINTELPRO

The letter sent to Martin Luther King, Jr. from the FBI, urging him to commit suicide shortly before he was set to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

The letter sent to Martin Luther King, Jr. from the FBI, urging him to commit suicide shortly before he was set to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

Some of you may be aware of COINTELPRO, the Counter Intelligence Program. This was a program by the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation intended to discredit and disrupt groups and people in opposition to the current political agenda. Sometimes these projects were illegal and included actions such as harassment, wrongful imprisonment, violence, and assassination. This was done in the name of “protecting national security, preventing violence, and maintaining the existing social and political order.” Targets included the Communist Party, anti-war protestors, members of the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Panther Party, feminist organizations, American Indian Movements, and other “leftist” movements. They did also target the Ku Klux Klan, but their methods apparently proved ineffective. 

This program was active between 1956-1971, under the control of J. Edgar Hoover. The program carried out wrongful imprisonments against many members of the Black Panther Party and did their best to discredit them and draw them as a dangerous, terrorist group. Martin Luther King, Jr. was sent a letter from the FBI urging him to commit suicide (when he was supposed to receive the Nobel Peace Prize).  

Historic Strides

Charleston, TN was the setting for two historic firsts for Tennessee. C.T. Parker was the first black police chief in Tennessee and Hoyt N. Berry of Charleston was the first black mayor in Tennessee.

In 1997, the Tennessee General Assembly ratified the 15th Amendment, which granted African-American men the right to vote and was later revised to say that citizens cannot be denied the right to vote based on race, making the state the last in the nation to do so.

Bradley County in the Revolutionary War

THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR 

(April 19, 1775 – September 3, 1783)

Siege of Yorktown.

Siege of Yorktown.

The Participants

The Patriots: The United States, France, Spain, Netherlands, Mysore, and various Native American groups

The British Empire: Great Britain, Quebec, colonial Loyalists, German auxiliaries, and various Native American groups, including the Cherokee

The War Prior to the Declaration of Independence

April 19, 1775 – July 4, 1776

Hamilton fans, this is for you.

Causes of the War

“We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” – Benjamin Franklin, July 4, 1776.

The Revolutionary War was a culmination of mounting tensions between Great Britain and the American colonies. A climate of rebellion stirred in the colonies after a number of British actions stifled their autonomy. One of the first laws imposed on the colonies was the Quartering Act, requiring citizens to open their homes to soldiers. Soon after, the Stamp Tax Act was levied on a number of documents, meaning many printed materials were taxed without the consent of the colonial legislature. A responsive cry rang out through the colonies: “no taxation without representation!” 

To protect colonial rights and fight against impeding British imperialism, the secret organization, the Sons of Liberty, was formed. In the wake of substantial backlash, the Stamp Act was repealed. However, the British government created the Townshend Act in its wake to reiterate its right to impose taxes on the colonies. The Townshend Act taxed all imports into the United States. 

Rifts formed between neighbors, between those who were loyal to the crown and those who vied for independence. The colonists taunted and harassed British soldiers. In one instance, this led to soldiers gunning down several civilians in what is now known as the Boston Massacre. It was fuel to the fire. The colonists dumped British-imported tea into the Boston harbor in what is now known as the Boston Tea Party. In response, the British government imposed another series of laws called the Coercive Acts in an attempt to force the submission of the colonists.

War broke out on April 19, 1775 when the British attempted to seize weapons from colonists. The colonies declared independence on July 4, 1776. 

East Tennessee at this Time

When independence was declared on July 4, 1776, Tennessee was not yet a state. It was then considered part of North Carolina and Virginia and only the eastern part of the state was settled by white colonists. Statehood would not be established until 1796. The white settlers of Tennessee wrote the Watauga Compact to create a method of self-governance outside of the thirteen colonies. However, their invasion of Cherokee lands instigated conflict between the two peoples. In July of 1776, the Cherokee attacked settlements in East Tennessee, but were ultimately defeated. 

Fighting amongst Neighbors: America’s First Civil War

The War until September 3, 1783

Engraving of Benedict Arnold, 1879.

Engraving of Benedict Arnold, 1879.

Whigs/Patriots

“The division among the people is much greater than I imagined and the Whigs and the Tories persecute each other, with little less than savage fury. There is nothing but murders and devastation in every quarter.”– Brigadier General Nathanael Greene, 1781. 

To the Patriots, the Crown had violated their rights as Englishmen with the institution of a number of unjust laws and taxes. The Patriots were faced with a number of disadvantages against their British belligerents. At the beginning of the war, they had no national government, no national army or navy, and no government agencies or departments. However, their home-field advantage and their strong motivations helped garner many Patriot victories. 

Tories/Loyalists

“Love to my country actuates my present conduct, however it may appear inconsistent to the world, who very seldom judge right of any man’s actions.”– Benedict Arnold, October 1780.

Although to the modern eye, the Loyalists seem anti-patriotic, they had a number of reasons for supporting the crown that would not be unusual today. For example, Yale Historian Leonard Woods Larabee states that there are eight characteristics that made these individuals lean towards conservativism and loyalty: 

1) they were older and resisted radical change

2) they felt the Crown was the legitimate government and rebellion was morally wrong

3) they were further alienated by Patriot violence

4) they were on neither side and forced to loyalty with the Patriot “with us or against us” attitude

5) they had attachments to Britain (business or personal)

6) they understood independence was inevitable, but wanted to delay it

7) they feared mob rule

8) they did not believe the Patriots could win

 Another enticing aspect for African Americans to join the Loyalist cause was the promise of freedom from slavery.

 The new Patriot governance deemed Loyalists traitors and these people were ostracized. Their businesses were boycotted. Their land was confiscated, even that of women safeguarding the home as their husbands fought for the Crown. Mobs of Patriots were known to hang, tar and feather, and torture known Loyalists. 

 

The Battle of King’s Mountain: Making the Volunteer State

October 7, 1780

Depiction of the Battle of King’s Mountain by Aloonzo Chappel done in 1863.

Depiction of the Battle of King’s Mountain by Aloonzo Chappel done in 1863.

The British were winning, overcoming the Patriots in skirmishes and battles all over the colonies.  Outside the colonies, Tennessee and North Carolina “Overmountain Men” sided with the rebellion, providing safe harbor for militiamen, and refusing to take an oath of loyalty to the Crown. The Patriots and the Loyalists converged on King’s Mountain on October 7, 1780. Of the one thousand Patriots who showed up for battle, over half of them were from Tennessee. The Patriots, without orders, defeated the Loyalists in a battle that raged for only one hour and five minutes. For these actions, Tennessee later became known as the “Volunteer State.” This victory, following a string of defeats, is said to have turned the tides of the Revolutionary War in the South. 

Colonel Benjamin Cleveland: Where Cleveland Got Its Name

“My Brave fellows, we have beat the Tories, and we can beat them again. They are all cowardly. If they had the spirit of men, they would join with their fellow citizens in supporting the independence of their country.” – Col. Benjamin Cleveland, October 7, 1780

Colonel Benjamin Cleveland, originally part of the North Carolina militia, was one of nine Patriot leaders in the Battle of King’s Mountain. According to legend, Colonel Benjamin Cleveland mustered up some 225 men from Wilkes County to battle the British army at King’s Mountain and delivered a rousing speech to the men. These men, as part of a ragtag battalion, were told to only take orders from themselves, not from any leader. Cleveland went on to participate in many more battles and skirmishes across the colonies, earning respect and admiration. Cleveland, Tennessee was named for him.

The Battle of Boyd’s Creek

Two months and six days after the Battle of King’s Mountain was the Battle of Boyd’s Creek, the only battle to take place within the confines of present-day Tennessee. This battle was fought against the Cherokee, who were, at the time, allies of the British. It is said that Nancy Ward had a hand in warning the white settlers of an attack orchestrated by the Cherokee leader Dragging Canoe. She used her status as a Beloved Woman to free settler prisoners and alerted them to the upcoming attack. The Patriots fought back the Cherokee and awaited reinforcements. 

The People of East Tennessee

Commonly thought to be a depiction of Nancy Ward by George Catlin. 1836.

Commonly thought to be a depiction of Nancy Ward by George Catlin. 1836.

Revolutionary Veterans

Revolutionary War Veterans who lived in Bradley, Polk counties

 Bradley

Walter Billingsley b. 1761-d. 1838

Joseph Campbell Jr. b. 1762-d. 1841

William Dodd b. 1760-d. 1844

Robert Forrester 

Morton (Moulton) Gray d. 1857

James Hamilton b. 1757-d. 1844

Charles Lain d. 1843

Joseph Lain (Lane) b. 1756-d. 1846

John Latta b. 1768

Joseph Lusk b. 1753-d. 1839

William McAllister (McCallister) b. 1762

Robert McCormick b. 1761

Hardy Owen 

James Sellers

Polk

Samuel Carter b. 1753-d. 1847

James Killen 

William Longley (Longly) b. 1761-d. 1841

William May b. 1754-d. 1844

George Petit (Pettitt) b. 1760-d. 1844

Thomas Towns (Townes) b. 1751-d. 1848

Samuel Walker b. 1760

(Nancy [Nanye-hi] Ward b. about 1735-d. 1824)

John White b. 1753-d. 1858

Col. Thomas Whiteside b. 1749-d. 1830

 Beloved Woman: Nancy Ward (Nanye-hi)

“You know that women are always looked upon as nothing; but we are your mothers; you are our sons. Our cry is all for peace; let it continue. This peace must last forever. Let your women’s sons be ours. Let our sons be yours. Let your women hear our words.” – Nancy Ward (Nanye-hi), July 1781

One of the most notable figures of this time was Nanye-hi (also known as Nancy Ward), a Cherokee “Beloved Woman” who served on the War and Women’s Councils of the Cherokee. Although many Cherokee were allies to the British, Nanye-hi was an advocate for peace. In 1776, the British asked the Cherokee to kill the Overmountain Men in the Watauga, Holston, and Carter Valleys. Nanye-hi freed prisoners so that the settlers would be warned of the attack. In July of 1781, Nanye-hi led peace treaty negotiations between the Cherokee and the settlers. 

 The End of the War

September 3, 1783

The French Navy, aiding the Patriots, defeated the British fleet and cut off their escape. George Washington then led his army to Yorktown to join the French. Together they besieged the British armies. General Cornwallis of the British Army surrendered to the Patriots. After this surrender, public support in Britain for the war waned. The Tory (Loyalist) government was replaced by Whigs (pro-Patriot). Eventually, the Treaty of Paris was signed on September 3, 1783 and Britain recognized the sovereignty of the United States.