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Former Kingsport resident compiles city’s African American history

Holly Viers • Jan 28, 2018 at 2:00 PM

KINGSPORT — Over the years, Calvin Sneed has been asked by many people to compile a comprehensive history of African Americans in Kingsport.

So when a member of Kingsport’s centennial committee came to him at the end of 2016 with the same request, he knew it was finally the time.

“It was time-consuming, but I really think it was worth it because our history — the history of African Americans in Kingsport — is not just a history of African Americans,” Sneed said. “It’s the history of Kingsport.”

Background

Sneed is no stranger to Kingsport, specifically the Riverview area. He moved there when he was 5 years old, and though he now lives in Chattanooga, he has been deeply engrained in the community ever since.

Sneed began working full time on compiling the history during the summer of last year, and he recently completed it. Sneed said his work will be added to Kingsport’s official history, and segments of it will also be published in the Times News every Sunday in February in honor of Black History Month.

Research

Sneed said he used many of the stories he heard as a child as a starting point.

“I had to go back and back up what they had told me, what I had heard all of these years,” Sneed said. “To find literal, written proof was difficult, because a lot of the people that were around that told me those things are no longer here.”

Sneed traveled often between Chattanooga and Kingsport to work on the project, which required him to spend many hours in the Kingsport Public Library.

He consulted a variety of sources, including property tax and census records, old newspapers, Douglass High School yearbooks and an oral history series done by Louetta Hall, a Riverview resident who interviewed many of the community’s first inhabitants.

Content

The history is broken down into 10-year increments by census counts. It begins with the 1910 census and covers the most impactful events that occurred during each decade.

“I was able to put events that happened within a chronological perspective, and that makes it easier to understand,” Sneed said. “It also makes it easy to see how things happened and why they happened.”

Sneed said his goal wasn’t to “rewrite history,” but rather to give an accurate look at the past and help African Americans think about their role in the city’s future.

“African Americans are wanting to know, ‘Where are we? How do we fit in? How do we help Kingsport develop in the next 100 years?’ ” Sneed said. “It’s kind of written from that perspective.”

Reflection

Sneed said compiling the history was an “extremely rewarding” experience, adding that “my heart is in the African American community in Kingsport.”

“I consider Riverview sacred ground,” Sneed said. “I consider it more than just a part of Kingsport. Kingsport can look upon Riverview proudly.”

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