KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Summertime at the Ed Cothren Pool means kids, families and a whole lot of fun. But have you ever asked yourself, who is Ed Cothren?

“It’s important that the young people understand that he was twenty-four years old when he died, and he had already established himself as a leader,” said Renee Kesler, president of The Beck Cultural Exchange Center. “When we tell Black history and culture about these extraordinary people, what we are intentionally trying to do is to say to this next generation, you were made to be great too!”

Ed Cothren was a Knoxville Native. He was a graduate of Austin High School and Knoxville College, Cothern answered the call to enlist in the Army in 1942 where almost immediately he would be singled out for his leadership qualities.

“When he left on the bus they put him in charge of all the soldiers when he first left for Kentucky,” said Cothren’s mother, the late Lucy Cothren in an interview about her son with The Beck Center in 1979. 

The Center has preserved the interview in its archives. 

“He wasn’t there very long before they transferred him to Ft. Benning Georgia, this officer’s training school. They kept him there until he graduated as a first lieutenant.”

Cothren would eventually be deployed to Europe as a member of the 92nd Division, better known as the Buffalo Soldiers. According to his mother, it wouldn’t be long until her son would be called to lead under fire.

“They were having a terrible battle there and his captain (died) on the battlefield. And then they called on him, my son, to take his captain’s place.”

Unfortunately, the then 24-year-old would meet a similar fate as his captain, dying on the battlefield in Italy in 1944. It was later determined that Cothren was the first African American from Knoxville to lose his life in WWII.

“There was a sense of pride in her voice,” Kesler said of Lucy Cothren’s interview. “My son was a leader from the start. My son died a hero. My son is being remembered.”

A sense of pride is also felt by Kesler as she talks about the impact Cothren continues to make on the local African American community 77 years after his death.

“These are the people that came before you, and though their life was cut short, even in that short amount of time, to this day we’re still talking about him,” Kesler said. “So what will the history books write about you?”

The city officially renamed the Leslie Street Pool in Knoxville the Ed Cothren Pool in 1946. A name that it continues to have to this day.