See Rock City

Like most people who make history, Clark Byers had something else on his mind. When the young sign painter loaded his pickup with ladders and paint buckets one day in 1936 and set out to persuade farmers to let him paint an advertising message on their barns, it would not have occurred to him that he would help define an era in American folk culture. But the thirty-year odyssey that began that day made an unknown tourist attraction world famous, and the slogan “See Rock City” a ubiquitous phrase familiar even to those who have no idea what it means. Read more »

Memphis

A gracious antebellum city of stern-wheelers and cotton money; a restless, violent city with a hot grain of genius at its heart; a city of calamity, desolation, and rebirth; a city that changed the way the whole world hears music. It’s all the same city, and it is this year’s Great American Place. Thomas Childers answers a summons to Memphis, Tennessee.

Bales of cotton no longer accumulate along the riverbank, but a small fleet of stern-wheelers still serves the Memphis waterfront.
 

When the phone rang and I heard the familiar voice of an old family friend inviting me to visit him in his hometown of Memphis, I was intrigued.

 

Back To Bessie

Bessie Smith was the greatest blues singer of all time; and her influence still permeates popular music though almost no one listens to her records. An appreciation by an eminent jazz singer.

Billie Holiday made me want to listen to Bessie Smith. I heard my first Billie Holiday record when I was studying in Paris in 1969, and I immediately became obsessed with her songs, her singing, and her life. When I read that Bessie Smith was one of got hold of by the woman who is called the Empress of the Blues. Read more »

The Battle Of Athens

The GIs came home to find that a political machine had taken over their Tennessee county. What they did about it astounded the nation.

In McMinn County, Tennessee, in the early 1940s, the question was not if you farmed, but where you farmed. Athens, the county seat, lay between Knoxville and Chattanooga along U.S. Highway 11, which wound its way through eastern Tennessee. This was the meeting place for farmers from all the surrounding communities. Traveling along narrow roads planted with signs urging them to “See Rock City” and “Get Right with God,” they would gather on Saturdays beneath the courthouse elms to discuss politics and crops.Read more »

The TVA: It Ain't What It Used to Be

What has befallen “the greatest peacetime achievement of twentieth-century America”s since the New Deal

In recent years, as the energy crisis has developed, and bureaucracies in Washington have wrestled with little success to solve it, and Congress has moved slower than a West Virginia coal train even to agree on a battle strategy, some Americans have proposed that a public agency based in Knoxville, Tennessee, become the model for coping with the problem. Read more »

Three Weeks In Dayton

The “Monkey Trial” brought two ideologies into a great conflict, and it was very, very hot

On a sunny morning in June, 1925, William Jennings Bryan put his famous appetite on display before a young reporter and two lawyers in the dining room of the old Piedmont Hotel on Peachtree Street in Atlanta. They watched with wide eyes as he showed why knives and forks had been invented.

 
 
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The Miracle On Missionary Ridge

The Union stood in danger of losing an entire army at Chattanooga. Then U. S. Grant arrived, and directed the most dramatic battle of the Civil War

On October 17, 1863, aboard a railroad car in Indianapolis, Indiana, General Ulysses S. Grant met for the first time Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. The Lincoln government had suddenly come alive to the fact that one of its major forces, the Army of the Cumberland, faced imminent disaster in the city of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and fierce Stanton, “Old Man Mars,” had hurried west to straighten things out. He and the President had picked Grant to take charge.Read more »

“Mother, I Do Not Hate To Die”

A choice between life and honor is a fearful one for any man. Here is the unforgettable story of how it was made by a twenty-one-year-old Confederate private.

The dawn seemed reluctant to break through the dismal skies over middle Tennessee on November 27, 1863, and by ten o’clock the gray clouds had given way to rain. The drops fell on soldiers of the 81st Ohio Infantry drawn up around a gallows on Seminary Ridge, just outside the town of Pulaski, and on a slender youngster in gray seated on a coffin in an army wagon that rumbled toward the hollow square of troops.

Grant At Shiloh

Surprised and almost overwhelmed, he stubbornly refused to admit defeat. His cool conduct saved his army and his job

For a time early in the spring of 1862, it seemed that Union armies were about to destroy the Confederacy in the west. A hitherto inconspicuous officer named U. S. Grant had, in close succession, captured the two major Rebel strongholds in Tennessee, Forts Henry and Donelson; an aggressive follow-up might well have overwhelmed the badly disorganized Confederates. But the Union high command hesitated, and a fine opportunity was wasted.