When the families of the Weakley County Training School reunite for the annual homecoming events in Martin in August, the laughter and sometimes tears erupting around picnic spots in the park or formal dining tables are hints of the power of memories shared and celebrated.
Two women want to ensure that at least some of those stories are captured. Karen White, librarian at the Paul Meek Library of UT Martin, submitted a proposal to receive a Humanities Tennessee Neighborhood Story Project grant. Karen Elmore, Administrative Assistant in Archives and Special Collections at the library, is joining her and together with Pastor Orrin A. Cowley, Sr., of McCabe Temple and Freeman’s Chapel United Methodist Churches in Martin are seeking input from the community to complete a neighborhood story project centered around the Weakley County Training School.
“The history of the Training School has never fully been told or integrated into the history of Weakley County,” noted White and Elmore. As a result of identifying this need, the two women, Cowley, and the McCabe Temple United Methodist Church are asking interested persons to attend a meeting Feb. 18 at 6:30 p.m., at the Paul Meek Library at UT Martin. The meeting offers the opportunity to discuss the direction and process for gathering the stories in the prescribed three-month time frame.
The Weakley County Training School was the county’s segregated African-American school that closed in 1966.
“One of the main points of the Neighborhood Story Project is that often marginalized groups have very little to say concerning what goes on in the community. We believe there is much to say and that it needs to be recorded,” said White. “As people pass, much information about the school and its impact on the lives of its students and the African-American community is being lost.”
While White and Elmore are serving as facilitators of this project, the outcome will be in the hands of the volunteers who convene to determine what stories will be told and how. Culminating projects can take a wide range of forms, such as a podcast, community mural, interactive exhibit, historical marker, memorial garden, video, report, book, website, or some other mode of documentation/dissemination. The grant will help cover the costs of production.
Community members who have already expressed interest include Rev. LeRoy Brent, a graduate of the Weakley County Training School; Beverly Claybrooks, a graduate of the Weakley County Training School, a school teacher and president of the Weakley County Training School Alumni Association; Nicki Claybrooks, Ms. Claybrooks’ daughter; Tara Tansil-Gentry, professor at UT Martin who has had family graduate from the Weakley County Training School; and Cowley.
The women are grateful for the support of the director of the Paul Meek Library, Dr. John Burch, who acknowledges the potential impact to the community-at-large. He is allowing them time for the project, as well as access to needed materials for printing.
The non-profit organization, Humanities Tennessee (http://humanitiestennessee.org/), offered grants to individuals interested in conducting a Neighborhood Story Project (NSP). Each NSP began with the formation of a leadership team, typically a group of 8-12 people. These are residents who are interested in learning more about significant people, places and moments in their neighborhood’s past and present; thinking critically about the spatial processes shaping their community; and shaping their neighborhood’s shared future.
For more information regarding the project and upcoming meeting, contact Elmore at (731) 881-7094.
The Weakley County Press is focusing on Black History Month throughout February. Make sure you receive each issue by calling 731-587-3144 or clicking on subscribe at nwtntoday.com.