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Knoxville College leaders hoping historic distinction opens grant opportunities

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) - Trustees and proud alumni of Knoxville College hope the campus can become a four-year university again. Friday, board members confirmed they've re-opened through online courses, which they say began September 4th. 

They hope with the help of historic preservation planner, Lindsay Crockett, with the East Tennessee Development District, they'll be able to add 11 buildings on campus to the National Register of Historic Places.

The campus, as Crockett explained, is already on the register. 

Trustees are interested in expanding their district to include the newer, abandoned, buildings. The distinction could open many grant possibilities for the organization, Crockett said. 

Since the original nomination for the Knoxville College was written in 1980, and the standards have changed according to Crockett. 

Now that additional buildings have hit the 50-year bench mark, they're now eligible for register consideration and for grants form the historic preservation fund. That's awarded by the Tennessee Historical Commission, but funded through the National Parks Service Fund. That particular grant is a 60/40 match, but Crockett says being on the register could open up many grant possibilities for the college. 

"I just think it's really important that the mid-to late 20th-century history of the site be told and spread throughout Knoxville and greater East Tennessee. it's a really important story that really is not as well documented," Crockett said. 

C. Virginia Clark Fields, a 1967 graduate of Knoxville College, remembers her time on campus well.

"I felt very comfortable building on what had been established by students who had been here formerly. I felt comfortable going downtown, knowing that I could sit anywhere, go to any movie, daring anybody to say you can't be there.," she said. "That time was about what the students could do for the surrounding community. It was about service during my time here. how can we make a difference to impact the community of Knoxville and beyond as black students."

Bob Booker, a 1952 Knoxville College Graduate and college historian, puts the campus at the center of the civil rights movement in East Tennessee.

"We saw what the students were doing and A and T college in Greensboro, North Carolina and thought we ought to do the same thing or we were going to graduate into second class citizenship. So, we started the movement here in Knoxville," he said. 

Booker remembers the graduation ceremony where Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech and complemented the school when he said, "I have heard of the great works you're doing here in Knoxville with regards to civil rights." 

While he doesn't remember all of the speech, he does remember King saying to the crowd in part: "be the very best you can be regardless of what kind of job you have. If you are a street sweeper, sweep streets like Raphael painted pictures. If you become a teacher, write like Shakespeare wrote plays." 

Rev. James Reese. a 1946 graduate of Knoxville College, says it was the only college for African Americans regionally within 150 miles in any direction.

"It had a particular mission, one that was grounded in the religious life of the United Presbyterian Church, but also grounded in the life in the are in which it was founded," he added. 

Johnny Ford, a 1964 graduate of Knoxville said "we integrated Knoxville because we marched, we went to jail and stood up. When we left here, the whole town was integrated." 

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