Hawkins County

Remembering Swift College in Rogersville

Swift College

ROGERSVILLE, Tenn. - If the spark of the civil rights movement in the 1960s was our nation's churches, then the front lines were the nation's educational institutions with integration and equality in education.

But during that same time it brought an end to long-standing African-American schools across the region. Some forgotten memories are still kept alive by a dedicated few.

To generations, an obscure historical marker means nothing, just a marker next to an old church. But the marker reminds those who take time to read it of an African-American college known as Swift College; it was one of few in the nation in 1883.

The memories of the college and subsequent high school and elementary school are kept alive at the Price Center at the Swift Museum in Rogersville, Tennessee. "I've told many people when they come into the museum that when we think of civil rights and all of the people of the deep south, when they were struggling for education some were killed for the cause of education," says Stella Gudger, the museum's executive director.

In the community of Rogersville there had been support for education for African-Americans, support from both black and white. "If you talk to some of the older people of Rogersville, whether they be black or white, there's nothing but good, good comments about what Swift meant to the people of Rogersville," Gudger said.

As the museum's timeline will tell you, with integration in 1963 came the destruction of the building and almost the destruction of the memories of school. "We only have a couple of pieces of furniture that are still here, and what people have given to us as artifacts. That's why it is so important to preserve these things and this building," Gudger says.

And the story of the college and the school, which is shared with fifth graders during the school year. "[We] let the children know about the history and the culture of the struggles that African-Americans had to just get an education and how important education is today," Gudger said.

The museum and its story were recently recognized on the AT&T Tennessee African-American history calendar as one place to visit year-round, not just during Black History Month.

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