MOC Forward Presents the History of Race in Chattanooga and UTC

By Seth Carpenter, Staff Writer-

MOC Forward returned for a discussion on the history of race in the city of Chattanooga and on the campus of UTC.

The Office of Equity and Inclusion held the third MOC Forward event of this semester on Feb. 25, entitled Moving Forward Together: Looking Back at UTC and Chattanooga’s Black History.

The Office of Equity and Inclusion presented the event as a conversation between father and daughter Elijah Cameron and Tara Mathis—director of community relations at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center and associate dean of students at UTC, respectively.

To start it off, Assistant Director of Multicultural Affairs Christopher Stokes went over some major milestones of black history at UTC, including the first African-American graduate of the University of Chattanooga in 1965. 

“I never entertained the thought of going to UTC when I was growing up because we didn’t see that as a school that would embrace us as African-Americans,” Cameron said. 

Mathis contrasted this sentiment with her own experiences in a newer generation when she attended a meeting for the Chancellor’s Multicultural Advisory Council with various community leaders.

“I just felt like I had arrived,” Mathis said.

Cameron also spoke about what stood out to him concerning the civil rights movement at the time in Chattanooga.

“Things were done quietly,” Cameron said. He spoke of a man named Johnny Holloway, who worked to register voters and would “sit down with those white leaders at lunch to discuss the issues that were at hand. Of course, I feel that we need to march, that we need to let our voices be heard.”

He said that was not to disparage the louder direct action of marches and protests, however. It was simply another method.

For Cameron, perseverance through education is another critical aspect of civil rights in order to shine light on society’s injustices. 

“We have to do as our ancestors did,” he said. “Those slaves never wanted to be slaves, but they persevered through it; they learned at night and studied at night, and they learned how to read.”

This does not have to stop at practical skills like reading and writing, though. Education in terms of history is also crucial, according to Cameron. 

“We have to tell our kids how important it is to know your history, our history, because they don’t get it in the schoolbooks; we never got it in the schoolbooks,” he said. “It’s important that we talk about these things as a family and as a community.”

In keeping with the previous MOC Forward events, the last several minutes were reserved for attendees to ask questions. 

MOC Forward’s next event, Doing Self Work, is set to be held Thursday, March 4 at 12:30 p.m. Anyone who is interested in attending can find the Zoom link on the MOC Forward event schedule online, and students can also learn more about the topics discussed through the MOC Forward collection at the University’s library.

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