NEW MARKET, Tenn. (WATE) — The Highlander Research and Education Center is steeped in history, hosting and helping train labor and civil rights leaders for decades.
Even Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks joined in their mission. So, why is the center’s current leadership against a bid to put Highlander on the national registry of historic places?
Ash-Lee Henderson, co-executive director of the Highland Research and Education Center, said the dispute has to do with a desire to stay true to Highlander’s mission, and not live in the past.
“Highlander’s been around since 1932,” she said. “This is our 90th year and we’re basically a school that helps people remember how to change their communities for the better through themselves.”
The Highlander Research and Education Center‘s headquarters is in New Market, Tenn., but in the past, they’ve called Knoxville and Middle Tennessee home.
“We started in Grundy County on the mountain that will split Chattanooga from Murfreesboro and Nashville,” Henderson said.
The center no longer owns the land in Middle Tennessee but according to Henderson, another organization has been helping to preserve the Grundy County location. “Just about a decade ago the Tennessee Preservation Trust bought the land that our original library sits on.”
Henderson added that while the land is being preserved by the other location, the Highlander Research And Education Center has no authority over the land.
“We’re very grateful that that space now still exists and has been renovated by the Tennessee Preservation Trust, but now there’s an attempt to get it put on the national registry in our name without any conversation with us,” she said.
The Highlander Center has filed a petition with the National Park Service opposing the nomination and saying it should be filed under them, not another organization.
“This petition isn’t an attempt to shame anyone. This petition is an attempt to tell the story correctly and in our own voices,” Henderson said.
Henderson stated that they had verbal conversations with those with Tennessee Preservation Trust and have even offered to buy the land back so it can be put on the national registry under the Highland Center name. “We want our land back. We want the sort of reparations that we think that the movements deserve.”
WATE attempted to get a statement from the Tennessee Preservation Trust. However, there wasn’t a response at this time.
WATE did obtain the application for adding the Highlander Folk School Library to the national register. It offers the civil rights leaders that were mentioned, including the late Congressman John Lewis.
The application stated, “Highlander’s guiding philosophies – promoting civic engagement, democratic ideals, integration, and adult education that addressed social problems head-on – catalyzed the work of civil rights groups.”