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Celebrating Black History Month: Riverview community is a modern-day phoenix

Katherine Scoggins • Feb 19, 2013 at 12:53 PM

Based on an interview with Calvin Sneed

There once was a piece of land occupied by the Federal Dyestuff and Chemical Company that was used for production - and for receiving its chemical waste. When the company closed, the site became an industrial dumpsite for several industries in Kingsport. Today, that same land is a healthy, vibrant community where neighbors visit with each other on front porches, children play on the ball field, and where the elders pass onto the children the history of their community - the leaders, institutions, challenges, stories - and a sense of belonging.

When the Douglass Alumni board decided to become a non-profit organization, it was discovered that the name "Douglass Alumni Association" had already been chartered by an alumni group in Memphis. The Kingsport group quickly decided to adopt a name that truly fit its mission to keep the school’s legacy alive in Kingsport: the "Sons and Daughters of Douglass," from the first line of the Douglass school song.

When Douglass School closed in 1966, its alumni knew the school was too important to be forgotten. It had made quite an impact on the lives of students and families in Riverview, and there were many bonds among the students, teachers and residents. Although rumors of integration had circulated for years, when it finally happened, many people felt it was being forced onto the African-American community. There was concern that the school’s history would be forgotten. As a result, the Douglass Alumni Association was formed in 1976 with Carolyn Goodwin (Class of ‘55) as its first chairperson, and was charged with the task of preserving and promoting the school’s founding principles through frequent reunions and communication.

Over the years, the fate of the school building became more and more uncertain.

Unfortunately, time had not been kind to the building. No one, especially the Douglass alumni and the residents of Riverview, wanted to see it torn down - nor did the City of Kingsport. By 2008, several ideas began circulating about what to do with it and a plan was developed to renovate the building, honoring its legacy of education and expanding the recreational opportunities by constructing a more modern gym. Mayor Dennis Phillips convened a task force of United Way agencies, who recommended that the renovated school serve as a center for non-profits, similar to the Dickson Center (the former Dickson Elementary School).

Calvin Sneed, who grew up in the Riverview community and attended Douglass High School until it closed, was asked by the city to help incorporate the histories of the school and neighborhood into the renovation efforts. The planners proposed a Douglass Community Room, where the legacy would be accessible. But it needed a "hook" to attract not just Douglass alumni and Riverview residents, but all of Kingsport and the surrounding region.

Football and basketball trophies from the award-winning teams were returned "home" to a place of honor in the beautiful, lighted display case in the Community Room. In the meantime, Douglass alumni had been busy collecting history, alumni notes and photographs for a website that proved to be extremely popular (www.douglassriverview.org).

The school’s renovation and the Hope VI grant for revitalization of the Riverview community provided an impetus for many positive changes in the area. A community that for years had the highest crime rate of any neighborhood in the city of Kingsport was returned to a revitalized and safe neighborhood with almost zero crime.

Successful youth outreach initiatives were developed, a renewed sense of community was fostered, and neighborhood pride was once again restored.

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