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Reclaiming Our Histories: Urban Renewal Stories

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Historically, changes in Knoxville’s development—despite seeming race-neutral—have come largely at a cost to African Americans. From the 1950s to the 1970s, in efforts to reinvigorate the downtown area and reverse capital flight from the city, Knoxville embarked on a three-tier renewal project that had very profound impact on Black spaces in the city. In Knoxville, urban renewal, which has been nicknamed “negro removal” and described by some as the worst thing to happen to African Americans next to slavery, destroyed three Black communities that were located in the eastern region of downtown and displaced hundreds of Black residents. Terms like “slum” and “blighted” were imposed on Black spaces. Rather than improving the standard of living in Black neighborhoods, the city, through these projects, transformed Black neighborhoods and the nerve center of Black commerce into concrete highways, apartment buildings and public facilities, including the Civic Coliseum. 

Through this event, I hope to provide an opportunity for community members who have experienced urban renewal to share their stories with the wider community. Remembering the details of such an experience may be emotionally stressful for these individuals. However, as Black communities in Knoxville and throughout the US Southeast are currently faced with displacement, the result of gentrification, it is important that we look to the past in order to understand the present.

We would like people across generations to join us as we create an open atmosphere for remembering and discussing this often forgotten but very relevant piece of Knoxville’s history. 

This event is sponsored by Highlander Center's We Shall Overcome Fund and it is a part of the "That Used to Be Our Neighborhood" event series. 

Refreshments will be served