As the year comes to a close, a coalition of community and faith leaders dedicated to presenting a more complete story of Columbia’s overlooked past continues to break new ground.
The Peace & Justice Initiative recently formalized its designation as a nonprofit organization, solidifying the faith-centered social justice enterprise’s foundation in Maury County. The group’s formal designation allows its leaders to begin working with the region’s movement and accept financial contributions and other gifts as the group moves forward with its mission to create a physical space to tell the story of the community.
The nonprofit’s leaders say they are striving to bring a Black history museum to the area and bolster Black businesses in forgotten, run down areas downtown.
The nonprofit, formed on the heels of over five years of ongoing discussions with the Stand Together Fellowship initiative, establishes a united voice against racism and division and stands to serve as a model for the community’s future generations, the organization’s leaders say.
The group strives to offer a roadmap for ongoing reconciliation and revitalization for the community, bringing topics of race, justice and historic preservation to the forefront of the community conversation.
“We are really streamlining our strategic plan of who we are and what we are attempting to do,” said Trent Ogilvie, a founding member of the initiative and the executive director of Columbia’s Housing and Redevelopment Corporation. “There is so much that needs to be done that you can lose focus. We don’t want to do that. We want to be very specific about what we are called to do.”
The Peace & Justice Initiative was formally unveiled in February as the community observed the 75th anniversary of a 1946 social uprising when Columbia’s Black business community took a stand against the Tennessee state troopers, who ransacked “the Bottom” neighborhood on East Eighth Street after a Black U.S. Navy Officer and his mother had an altercation with a white business owner.
A nonprofit and nonpartisan organization, the Peace & Justice Initiative, was formally announced during the remembrance ceremony held on the same ground the uprising occurred inside Columbia’s 8th and Woodland Church.
“It is founded to protect that history and make sure that history is taught in a way that brings about unity in Columbia,” Ogilvie said. “We want to make sure the history of African Americans is not forgotten. This is pivotal to the history of Columbia and the Civil Rights movement.”
More: No longer ignored: Newly-formed Peace & Justice Initiative to tell difficult history of race in Columbia
The event gained national attention and is considered by local historians as one of the nation’s pivotal events that laid the foundation for the Civil Rights Movement, which took hold less than a decade later.
More: How a 1946 dispute over a broken radio in Tennessee helped spark the civil rights movement
“It was a launching point right here in Columbia, Tennessee,” Ogilvie said. “When we ignore those parts of history, it is as if that struggle was not real — as if it was in vain — and we want to recognize it and build upon it and know how we can learn from it and do that it in a way that is not threatening or malicious. There is hope. There is reconciliation.”
The initiative’s leaders are now in the process of building partnerships with other local organizations as they continue to further develop a long term plan.
“We are working toward that ultimate goal of unifying the community,” Ogilvie said. “We have a vision down on paper, and it is being refined. In the next 30 to 90 days, you are going to hear about what we are launching, and it is going to be very impactful for the community.”
More: Aftermath of 1946: Dubbed ‘riot’ was necessary for change in Columbia, America
“There is a lot of our history that has been ignored and that effects the generations that follow,” he added. “And if that history is ignored people are made to believe that they are being ignored, and they they don’t matter and what they will accomplish won’t matter.”
Ogilvie said the organization’s founding marks Columbia’s decision to no longer remain silent in relocation of its troubled past.
As the group’s inaugural president, he previously described the new initiative as a “redemptive work of justice.”
At the top of the organization’s list of efforts is its mission to find a permanent location for a museum that will tell Columbia’s Black history, offering a more complete context of the region’s past.
“We have a culture in Maury County that does not want to talk about our history,” said Christa Martin, Columbia’s vice mayor, during a meeting discussing the initiative this week.
“We can’t look over it. We can’t let it go. We are going to show and make sure we see our history. We have a lot of work to do. There are a lot of things happening that should not be happening. We need to keep saying the names and all things that have happened. It is time.”
More: ‘Forgotten history’: Can Columbia’s East 8th Street neighborhood be revitalized?
The initiative’s key plans also include highlighting Columbia’s historically Black business district on Eighth Street to ensure it receives the same attention from city leaders as the downtown area’s more prosperous areas in business, tourism and foot traffic, like Sixth and Seventh streets. .
“We have a vision and a plan now, and we are getting ready to tell the story,” said Russ Adcox, the lead pastor at Columbia’s Maury Hills Church and a fellow founding member of the initiative.
“There is a fuller history to Columbia that needs to be told. There are some great things that happened in Columbia. Columbia needs to be recognized for its historical significance and part of the Civil Rights trail in the south. There is a whole lot more to the story that should be told. There are a lot of people who grow up in Maury County that do not know what happened. We want to tell the truth of what happens in Columbia and Maury county and they are telling the fade cause.”
More: ‘Change is coming’: Pastor says East 8th Street will see rebirth with support from city, youth
The Peace & Justice Initiative follows a path laid forth by the community’s Stand Together Fellowship, a grassroots organization spearheaded by local pastors and civic leaders, who stand for the purpose of a united voice against racism and division.
The fellowship, which continues to hold meetings on a monthly basis, was formed in June 2015 in response to the shooting at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.
The group began with a significant achievement of changing the name of a rural county road east of Columbia from Negro Creek Road to Johnson Creek Road.
More: ‘This beloved community’: Faith leaders share vision for unified Columbia amid difficult times
The fellowship holds meetings, hosted by the Columbia Police Department on the first Friday of each month. Each gathering is centered on discussions of race, violence and potential solutions through a collective focus, concentrating on education and the criminal justice system.
“We are not trying to figure out who is right and who is wrong,” Ogilvie said. “We are trying to do the right thing and build a community that is best for everyone. The more we can do that, the better this will be. People are tired of the bickering and the fighting. Tired of seeing and hearing the injustice, this organization provide a means for people to come together and make it a stronger community and a better place for everybody.”
He emphasized that the initiative is focused on healing the community.
“When you do that — then you get revitalization — because the people are revived and they will revise their communities and revive their homes,” Ogilvie said. “That is really what we want to be able to accomplish.”
A website has been leached to serve as a digital home for the Peace & Justice Initiative at https://www.remember1946.com.
Reach Mike Christen at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MikeChristenCDH and on Instagram @michaelmarco. Please consider supporting his work and that of other Daily Herald journalists by subscribing to the publication.
Credit: Source link