By ALLEN RAU
Although frigid temperatures forced the postponement of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day walking tour and the community art project to a future date, the McKinney Center opened its doors to more than 80 visitors, regaling them with stories of local residents who meant so much to the Jonesborough community.
It was perhaps fitting that the event was moved to the building that housed African-American students from its opening in 1940 to its closure in 1965 after integration.
“This has now become a building where stories are remembered and collected and shared,” McKinney Center Theater Director Jules Corriere said. “We’re able to hear so many because this building has so many stories to tell.”
Among the speakers was Anne G’Fellers Mason, who discussed the Emancipator, the nation’s first abolitionist newspaper; Katelyn Yarbrough, who talked about the door with no stairs at the back of the Eureka Inn that has been kept as a reminder of ancient segregation; as well as tales of Jonesborough’s own Alfred Martin Rhea, who raised the flag on San Juan Hill during the Spanish American War serving as a Buffalo Soldier in the US Army, and Alfred Greenlee, a Jonesborough resident and Water Department employee for decades with a near blueprint-like memory of every pipe laid in the city.
Alderman Adam Dickson, originally slated to read from Dr. King’s most famous speech, spoke to the attendees at the event.
“The importance of the MLK holiday is rooted in Dr. King’s 1963 ‘I Have a Dream’ speech that society wants to live out the true meaning of its creed; that all men and women are created equal. We want to be an inclusive society. We want to move forward for the sake of the republic. We must have serious conversations about what it means to unite.
“My comment earlier was a quote from Dr. King in which he said, ‘If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But one way or another we have to keep moving forward.’ And as American citizens we have to keep moving forward. We have to pay attention to each other, we have to recognize each other. And interestingly enough, here in Tennessee’s oldest town, we have this unique history of appreciating each other, listening to each other. And that’s what real community is. That’s the beauty of the MLK holiday.”
While the community art project will be scheduled for a later date, many children were in attendance to hear the stories.
Eleven-year-old Johnson City resident Penelope Strickland said, “I learned about the Eureka Inn that had the door that had no steps to lead up to it. I also learned about the Buffalo Soldiers. In my school we did learn about Buffalo Soldiers and so it was nice to hear more about it.
“(Dr. King) was a really good guy and he had a really big movement about how everybody was equal. It doesn’t really matter what their skin color or gender is. And that’s really important to know in life.”