UTC and RISE partner to preserve and share Chattanooga’s African American culture

Woodson Carpenter, RISE Chattanooga’s community arts strategist.

With Black History month just around the corner, a collaboration is underway–one which is aimed at preserving and sharing past and present African American culture in the Chattanooga area.

The groundbreaking partnership involves the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Department of History and RISE Chattanooga, a community-based nonprofit organization.

“The faculty, students and staff of the UTC Department of History are thrilled to formalize and expand our collaboration with RISE Chattanooga, a vibrant community partner with shared values and goals,” said Michael Thompson, department head and UC Foundation associate professor.

“Through the mutually beneficial lending of resources, opportunities and expertise, this agreement promises to benefit all members of the UTC and Chattanooga communities and foster a greater appreciation for our city’s rich artistic legacies and Black history.”

UTC’s partnership with RISE, which stands for Responsive Initiatives for Social Empowerment, will combine the history department’s mission and RISE’s pillar of cultural preservation to gather and share the stories of Chattanooga’s historically African American neighborhoods.

Initial plans for the partnership include a revamped walking-tour series, a spring speaker series and continuing research on Chattanooga’s historic neighborhoods and churches.

RISE Chattanooga, an independent minority-led organization focused on community education, performance, and arts and cultural preservation, was initially created in 2011 as Jazzanooga–a day-long festival held in April to honor Jazz History Month.

RISE currently serves thousands of individuals annually through its programs, including a walking tour of the MLK Neighborhood–which features the cultural and music history, historic buildings and public art of the area.

In 2014–when RISE was still known as Jazzanooga–the organization created the MLK Banner Project, which installed biographical banners that highlighted African American artists and performers original to Chattanooga and critical to the cultural movement along the city’s Martin Luther King Boulevard.

“RISE has always prioritized the voices and the needs of our neighbors as we seek to preserve the rich culture of Chattanooga,” said Woodson Carpenter, RISE’s community arts strategist.

“We are excited to have the scholarly expertise of the UTC history department come alongside us as we continue to listen to and tell the stories of Chattanooga.”

Once known as the “Big Nine,” MLK Boulevard (formerly Ninth Street) is the only remaining cohesive area historically associated with Chattanooga African Americans.

Since 1994, the community has been listed on the National Register as an area of great historical significance.

President Gerald Ford officially recognized February as Black History Month (also known as African American History Month) in 1976, calling upon the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

For further information about RISE Chattanooga, visit risecha.org.