Alex Haley Museum
Just 35 miles south of Memphis, African American history buffs will be fascinated by the ten-room bungalow that has been transformed into the Alex Haley Museum, the boyhood home of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Roots. In Henning, the house, which Haley proclaimed as the "birthplace of Roots," contains some of the 1919 furniture that belonged to Haley’s family. The museum includes memorabilia, family artifacts, a small gift shop and stands as Haley’s final resting place.
In Knoxville, there’s the magnificent statue honoring Haley. Designed for interaction, the statue is surrounded by a playground and city park. Created by internationally acclaimed sculptor Tina Allen, the statue depicts Haley, who spent the last 14 years of his life in East Tennessee, gazing toward the Smoky Mountains.
Middle Tennessee celebrates its African American heritage with such attractions as Hadley Park, established in 1912 and believed to be the first park for African Americans in the United States. The 34-acre park stands on part of the antebellum plantation of John L. Hadley, a European American slave-owner committed to helping post civil war freed men and women adjust to their new status. At Hadley’s invitation Frederick Douglass spoke to former slaves in 1873 from the porch of the Hadley house, which stood in this park until 1948.
Fisk University was founded in 1866 as one of the first private educational institutions offering a secondary liberal arts curriculum to freed slaves. Fisk University features the world famous Fisk Jubilee Singers—the original nine of whom introduced slave songs to the world in 1871 and were instrumental in preserving the American musical tradition known today as Negro spirituals. During an international tour, the singers collected enough funds to construct the first permanent structure in the country solely built for the education of newly freed slaves, Jubilee Hall, which is the oldest and most distinctive building on the school’s campus. The historically black college in Nashville is currently under the leadership of its 14th president, Hazel O’Leary, former Secretary of Energy under President Clinton.
Tennessee’s Civil War history is rich, as the state ranks number one in the total number of soldiers who fought in the War Between the States. After the war began, Tennessee became the last of 11 states to secede from the Union. The bloodiest two-day battle of the entire Civil War was fought in Chattanooga, with a staggering 37,000 casualties. More Civil War battles were fought in Tennessee than in any other state except Virginia.
Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park
In Chattanooga, take a walk in the shoes of 124,000 Civil War soldiers through the Chickamauga Battlefield. The Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park is still the largest of its kind in the nation, with districts at the Chickamauga Battlefield, Point Park and Lookout Mountain Battlefield, Missionary Ridge, Orchard Knob and Signal Point.
Fort Negley, originally built in 1862, is one of the largest fortifications built by Union troops residing in Nashville during the Civil War. Black laborers assisted the Union Army in building Fort Negley, which reopened to the public in December 2004 after a $1 million restoration. The unique, star-designed Union fort from the Civil War is located between Greer Stadium and the Adventure Science Center near downtown Nashville.
Shiloh National Military Park
Established in 1894 to commemorate the scene of the first major battle in the Western theater of the Civil War, Shiloh National Military Park is considered one of the best preserved battlefields in the nation. The two-day battle, which involved about 65,000 Union and 44,000 Confederate troops, resulted in nearly 24,000 killed, wounded and missing. The park has within its boundaries the Shiloh National Cemetery along with the well-preserved prehistoric Indian mounds that are listed as a historic landmark.
The Carter House, built in 1830 by Fountain Branch Carter, was the stage of the Second Battle of Franklin—one of the worst disasters of the Civil War for the Confederate Army. This Registered Historic Landmark was used as a Federal Command Post while the 23 members of the Carter family hid in the cellar during the five-hour battle.
Just down the road, John and Carrie McGavock opened the doors of their Carnton Plantation as a field hospital for the wounded Confederates during the Battle of Franklin. In 1866, the McGavock’s, concerned about the conditions of the Confederate dead who had been buried in shallow graves where they fell, designated land near their family cemetery for the re-interment of nearly 1,500 Confederate soldiers. Today, the McGavock Confederate Cemetery is the largest privately owned military cemetery in the nation. Don’t miss the riveting tale of Carrie McGavock in Robert Hicks’s debut novel, The Widow of the South.