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Man seeks voices for Middle Tennessee African American Oral History Project

Middle Tennessee African American Oral History Project
Posted at 6:31 PM, Jun 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-16 19:58:41-04

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WTVF) — A Murfreesboro man believes all of us have a story, but not all of those stories manage to get told. He wants to document the voices telling those important stories, but he needs help to find them.

"One of the classrooms is in here," said Jason McGowan, walking through a doorway into a classroom space from many decades ago.

There's a deep family history in this old Murfreesboro building for McGowan.

"I was never in a classroom of this nature, but it just feels nostalgic for some reason," he said.

His grandfather once sat in one of the seats for school.

"His name was Willie A. McGowan," he said. "Bradley Academy was the first school for African American children in Murfreesboro. It was a hub for the Black community. The city was at one time looking to tear this place down for whatever reason. My grandfather, he stood in front of a bulldozer the day they were supposed to be tearing this place down. It worked. We're here."

The building is now a museum and historic location.

"I love the banners around the windows, just depicting Black people and Black life," said McGowan.

Like his grandfather, McGowan is about to preserve a piece of Black history. McGowan's looking for Black Middle Tennesseans who lived through the era of segregation, of sundown towns, of using a Green Book as a guide.

"I'm looking for those who went to segregated schools, who experienced the pangs of segregation, and who have stories of being part of a Black community," said McGowan. "Everybody has a story."

McGowan wants to record those voices for the Middle Tennessee African American Oral History Project. It's to be archived at MTSU's Albert Gore Research Center and eventually end up online.

He's asking anybody interested to meet him at the Bradley Academy Museum and Cultural Center Juneteenth celebration on Saturday. There, they can sign up for the project.

"I can't compare what I'm doing to standing in front of a bulldozer, but if I can stand behind a camera and listen to people tell their stories, I feel I can do my part," said McGowan. "It means everything to me to be able to put our mark out there. I want people to know we're here. We didn't just exist. We lived. We thrived in communities of our own. It means everything."

This project is funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

If you or someone you know would like to take part, McGowan can be reached at jason.mcgowan@mtsu.edu and 615-898-2030.