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University of Tennessee Libraries gives people a chance to walk through Black history in East TN

Photos in the University of Tennessee Library span decades of Tennessee history, and show some of the most important moments in Black history for the region.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Volunteer Voices, the University of Tennessee's online archival collection, houses over 4,000 images and documents that tell the story of Tennessee before it was even a state. It also captures the stories of some historical fights for civil rights that happened across the state. 

Laura Romans, the Manuscript Archivist of Special Collections, said images from the collection go back as far as the 1700s. This collection holds the legacy of Black leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Ida B. Wells.

"These archives and these historical documents are so much more. I feel like they hold a lot of power," Romans said. 

The pictures and documents found inside the special collection and university archives building can take visitors back in time, to a moment when people were fighting for freedom. 

"Especially as we're talking about African American and Black history, it's important to acknowledge that it definitely wasn't pretty," she said. "And there were a lot of struggles as they were fighting for equity, fighting for justice."

She said that collections like these are crucial, as many times historical moments from underrepresented communities are often missed. 

"A lot of times that history does get forgotten, it gets changed," Romans said. 

One of those stories happened in East Tennessee — the integration and bombing of Clinton High School. That happened after 12 Black students attended the school in 1956.

"It's not all rainbows and sunshine," she said. "So the photographs do document, the bombing of the school, which happened two years after the integration."

This collection is a time capsule right on UT's campus. People can find more information about UT's special collections online. Currently, they also have a special exhibit on Historically Black Colleges and Universities across Tennessee.

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