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Saturday, September 18, 2021

Knoxville College: The Creator of Knoxville’s Black Middle Class

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By Michael Blum

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            One of the most interesting pieces of Knoxville’s history is a report written in 1967. Usually reports are dull, lists of facts.  This one is different because it contains interesting insights into Knoxville College’s role in the city’s history.  The report titled, Social and Economic Conditions in Knoxville, Tennessee as They Affect the Negro was written by J. Harvey Kern of the National Urban League. It covers all areas of Black life in the city, including history, economics, and the Civil Rights Movement. The report combines relevant statistics and interviews conducted by KC Professor James Williams and seven undergraduate students.  

            Overall, the report is bleak. It shows the harmful effects of racism, employment discrimination, and segregation. However, one bright spot emerges—the efforts of Knoxville College.  It is clear, in 1967, Knoxville College educated most of the city’s Black middle class, primarily schoolteachers, or professional or technical workers. Drawing on this history, Knoxville College is in the process of becoming, once again, a creator of the middle class.

            President Leonard Adams is the right person to lead the effort.  A quick glance at the school’s strategic plan provides a road map.  Part of the first strategic goal is to make education the school’s flagship degree and start a workforce development program. The third goal seeks to create partnerships with different institutions, including universities, vocational and trade schools, and corporations to provide students’ good jobs.  This idea combined with the “development of new business/educational opportunities and job creation in the Mechanicsville Neighborhood” will create economic growth in the area.

            The plan has already achieved results.  In June, KC received a $200,000 grant from the Knoxville Community Agency Grant program.  The grant will help renovate the Alumni Library so it can house the workforce development program.  Chief Operating Officer Dasha Lundy says that KC’s return “is key to solving some of the systemic inequalities that harm the city’s Black communities.” Doing so, provides a path to the middle class and resuming KC’s role as the creator of Knoxville Black middle class.  

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