Rogersville hosts early screening of documentary on history of black colleges

Jeff Bobo • Feb 9, 2018 at 1:30 PM

ROGERSVILLE — Rogersville is among three East Tennessee communities with rich backgrounds in African American higher education which have been chosen to host early screenings of the new documentary "Tell Them We Are Rising" two days before it premiers nationally on Feb. 19.

Tell Them We Are Rising, as well as the 2015 half hour documentary "The Swift Story" about Rogersville's Swift Memorial College, be shown during a free event held Saturday, Feb. 17, at 6 p.m. at the Price Public School and Community Center in Rogersville.

Aside from Rogersville, Tell Them We Are Rising is being pre-screened in Morristown which had Morristown College, and Knoxville which had Knoxville College.

Tell Them We Are Rising will debut nationally on PBS on Monday, Feb. 19 at 9 p.m., and will be followed on East Tennessee PBS by an encore presentation of The Swift Story at 10:30 p.m.

East Tennessee PBS director of community outreach William Isom, who organized the screenings, noted that the historic black colleges in Rogersville, Morristown and Knoxville aren't mentioned in Tell Them We Are Rising.

He said screening The Swift Story as a double-feature will add a local perspective to the national stories covered in Tell Them We Are Rising.

"Tell Them We Are Rising" explores the pivotal role historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) played over the course of 150 years in American history, culture, and identity.

"It starts out talking about how reading and writing were illegal for black people, and how northern missionaries came down after the Civil War and set up schools,” Isom said. “There’s also with a lot of discussion about Booker T. Washington and the founding of Tuskegee University. It also talks about the setup of Howard University and Howard's Laws school, and how that precipitated the desegregation of public education; and it talks some about Fisk University in Nashville, and some of the protests that occurred when Fisk's president tried to 'civilize' its students."

"It follows history into the Civil Rights Movement and protests at Southern University which led to a student being shot. And it goes right up into the modern era where some black colleges continue to thrive while others have disappeared."

"The Swift Story" was completed in 2015 by East Tennessee PBS in partnership with Price Public School, and explores the 80 year existence of Rogersville's African American college and high school.

In 1883, the first African-American graduate of Tennessee’s Maryville College, Rev. William H. Franklin, established an institution of higher learning for newly emancipated blacks in the region.

Swift Memorial Institute in Rogersville became a beacon of higher education in the rural South for African Americans, demonstrating not only the power of education but the importance of doing what’s right, regardless current ideas.

The Swift Story is told through newly discovered photographs, letters and documents, as well as interviews with authors, academics, Swift Memorial Institute alumni and Rogersville residents.

The Swift campus now belongs to the Hawkins County Board of Education, and a few old buildings survive including the president's house which serves as Central Office.

The former segregated Price Public School, 203 W. Spring St., Rogersville, is now a community center and is home to the Swift Memorial college Museum; and is located across Hasson Street from the old Swift campus.

Trailers for both films can be viewed in the online version of this article at www.timesnews.net.



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