NEW MARKET (WATE) – Nestled in New Market, Tennessee is a place that played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement nationwide. The Highlander Research and Education Center still playing an important part in history in 2017.
The Highlander was established in 1932. It wasn’t always in New Market, but it’s always called Tennessee home.
“It’s a beautiful legacy and responsibility and we take that very seriously here.”
For decades, it has served as an adult education center for community workers hoping to bring social and economic justice to local communities. Most notably, the Civil Rights Movement of the 50s and 60s.
“There were so many East Tennessee connections. Freedom rides came through East Tennessee. So many people from East Tennessee were actually critically important to the way that civil rights happened across the region, especially in our state.”
Co-executive director Ashlee Woodard Henderson says the results of the civil rights movement didn’t come by chance, but from deliberate planning at Highlander.
“Other people had tried to do something like a bus boycott, particularly in Montgomery, and it was [Rosa Park’s] turn,” said Henderson. “She came with a lot of other really brilliant minds like Dr. King and others and they made a plan and that plan not only impacted the Montgomery bus system it impacted people across the region, right.”
More than five decades later and Highlander is still an important part of community activism.
“To meet the growing needs the Highlander a new dorm was opened called the Lilly Johnson Lodge. It’s a place where participants can come and rejuvenate and also go about the work of planning.
The centerpiece of Highlander is its main meeting room.
“This is like, I think this room and that view is what folks think about when I think about Highlander and I think it is a sacred space because people become most vulnerable in these rocking chairs. They [the chairs] have names on them of movement leaders.”
The work attributed to the center is celebrated today, but during some of its most controversial times in the 60s it was seen as a threat to the segregated way of life that many America weren’t ready to change.
“All over Tennessee they started putting up billboards that said Highlander was a communist training school. This is what folks were saying about us at that time.”
The Highlander moved locations several times and at one point the state closed it down.
The center is celebrating its 85th anniversary this September. The Highlander now works to help Appalachian communities.