Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, February 18, 2022

Celebrating Black Americans who continue to inspire

Limiting the celebration of great Black Americans to only one month troubles me, even as I observe Black History Month.

As I was gathering my thoughts for this column, name after name of significant Black Americans and Chattanoogans came to mind. Eager to share my thoughts about these individuals and their profound impact on society, I wondered if I’d live to see a time when we don’t need a calendar to remind us of such an occasion.

Instead, my hope is for the commemoration and appreciation of not only Black history and Black Americans but all individuals who inspire and educate to be our constant.

I hope the following inspiring individuals mentioned in this brief piece can ignite a deeper curiosity in what we can and should celebrate every day.

As a Realtor, I’ve had the privilege of working with buyers and sellers of many different backgrounds. Even before becoming a real estate agent, I crossed paths with people from all walks of life.

It was when living in Mississippi that I was fortunate enough to meet and hear James Meredith, a man who broke down the state’s culture of racial segregation, speak at the 40th anniversary of his integration at the University of Mississippi.

Through my time spent in Mississippi and my studies, I found a fondness for the blues. As a native Chattanoogan, I’d be remiss to not mention Chattanooga’s own Bessie Smith, the Empress of the Blues, and her significance to many and the entire music industry.

Smith was no stranger to difficulties, but her talent and grit propelled her to stardom. In 1923, she signed a deal with Columbia Records and recorded the company’s first major hit, “Down Hearted Blues,” which inspired the label to begin serving the African American market – a groundbreaking move.

My recent knowledge of a few notable Black Chattanoogans is partly owed to local historian Linda Moss Mines, who spoke at Greater Chattanooga Realtors’ leadership orientation about Chattanooga’s history as part of an effort to educate up and coming leaders within our association.

Linda’s immense knowledge and passion for Chattanooga history mesmerized her audience and me. Through her, I learned about the impressive lives of Dr. Emma Wheeler and Mary Walker.

Emma Rochelle was born in 1882 to a prominent African American family in Florida. At the age of 17, she completed her undergraduate degree in Jacksonville and shortly thereafter married, only to become a widow one year later.

Emma and her newborn relocated to Nashville, where she enrolled in medical school. She later married Dr. John Wheeler. The couple moved to segregated Chattanooga, where they both practiced medicine.

During this time, African Americans in need of medical care were treated in the basements of existing hospitals and often suffered a higher mortality rate due to lack of supplies and poor conditions.

After saving money for years, Wheeler purchased two lots on the corner of East Eighth and Douglas Streets. In 1915, she dedicated the first Chattanooga hospital owned, operated and staffed by African Americans to the care of African Americans.

Walker’s story is quite different from Wheeler’s but just as inspiring. Walker was born into slavery and was just 15 years old when the Emancipation Proclamation declared all slaves were free.

She moved to Chattanooga in 1917, where she worked as a domestic helper. In 1963, when she was 115 years old, Mary decided to enroll in the Chattanooga Area Literacy Movement. By 1964 she learned to read, write and solve basic math problems.

Mary was certified as the nation’s oldest student and her retirement center was renamed after her.

Walker died at the age of 121 in 1969. To memorialize her life and commitment to never stop learning, the Tennessee Historical commission dedicated a marker in her memory at 3031 Wilcox Boulevard.

In downtown Chattanooga at the Charles H. Coolidge Medal of Honor Heritage Center, a recipient by the name of Sgt. George Jordan is memorialized for his patriotism.

A former slave born in Williamson County, Tennessee in 1847, Jordan volunteered to serve his country in 1866 on Christmas Day. He received the Medal of Honor for actions on two different occasions.

Despite being ineligible to vote, Jordan continued to serve his country faithfully, and his story remains an inspiration to many.

Later this month, author Jason Riley, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and columnist for the Wall Street Journal, will speak in Chattanooga on “Why Thomas Sowell Matters.” Riley, like Sowell, is renowned for his writings on inequality, race, school choice and social justice.

I have found myself drawn to their works and hope other Chattanoogans find time to reflect on the treasure trove of notable, inspiring Black Americans such as these.

Moreover, I hope we’ll all take the time to talk with our young people about individuals who have provided us with wisdom and inspiration that we may apply to our own lives.

The list of contributors to our nation’s history is lengthy, and in my research of a handful of individuals, one fact stood out to me: No one person rose alone.

In fact, every leader cites the help and support of many. That’s what I want us to walk away with as we celebrate Black History Month.

Let us each take responsibility for the continuous celebration of Black Americans like Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. Henry Highland Garnet, Hiram Rhodes Revels, Condoleezza Rice, Ben Carson, Shelby Steele, Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, Oprah Winfrey and many others.

Realtors fully embrace perspectives from all walks of life, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, national origin, socioeconomic status, political affiliation or any other qualities by which we might define ourselves.

These beliefs are essential as we serve our members who help fulfill the dream of home and property ownership throughout the nation. That’s Who We R.

Founded in 1912, Greater Chattanooga Realtors is a regional organization with more than 2,500 members servicing Hamilton and Sequatchie counties in southeast Tennessee and Catoosa, Dade and Walker counties in northwest Georgia. The Association is one of approximately 1,100 local associations and boards of Realtors nationwide that comprise the National Association of Realtors. Greater Chattanooga Realtors owns and operates a Multiple Listing Service that is one of approximately 600 MLSs in the country and services more than 2,700 users.