IN THE MONTH OF FEBRUARY
Beck Cultural Exchange Center has lots of things going on, even during the mask wearing-slowdown-shutdown of 2020-2021! This month, the Center will “commemorate history, and celebrate the contributions of extraordinary people.” Of course, Beck Cultural Exchange Center actually does that all year long in so many ways. Most importantly though, it has continued its role as a keeper of history.
DURING URBAN RENEWAL
Celebrating and commemorating history became urgent in Knoxville following Knoxville’s Urban Renewal that occurred from 1959 to 1974. Urban Renewal devastated entire African American communities, here in Knoxville and in many major cities in the country. Thriving black owned businesses, homes, and churches were demolished in the Morningside area and the areas adjacent to it. They were replaced by concrete buildings, parking lots, and the James White Parkway. An entire community gone, not just from the landscape but from memory.
So, in 1974, the people of the African American community came together and founded the Beck Cultural Exchange Center. “The people sent invitations to the entire community to attend a meeting October 13, 1974 for the purpose of establishing a cultural center to preserve the history of the black community. Urban Renewal destroyed the fabric of the black community, but not the resolve of the people.” (Beck History) “The People’s Project”, as it is called, was also supported by the Mayor of Knoxville, KCDC and the Knoxville Area Urban League. So, in December of 1974, the Beck Cultural Exchange Center, located at 1927 Dandridge Avenue, was established. It was created as an organization that would sustain and safeguard the history of the, now lost, community.
AT BECK CULTURAL EXCHANGE CENTER
Beck is really so many things, though … a museum, a library, an art and exhibition gallery, and an archive studio. Visitors can tour the mansion, read or research in the library, and view artwork. In addition, the center’s Exhibit Hall is available as a venue for events. Take a virtual tour.
Events held at or through Beck Cultural Exchange Center, are equally rich. The focus now is the Annual Black History Month 2021 Celebrations. Virtual events include guest speakers, films, a town hall meeting, a live event entitled ” A Movement of Black Arts and Culture” and more. And, the center’s website is full of information on the Annual Black History Month 2021 Celebrations.
IN THE FUTURE
But the organization is not standing still and just looking to the past. It is moving forward with an innovative look to the future. And, in doing so, Beck Cultural Exchange Center is reclaiming history. They are bringing to light the history of buildings in the downtown area; a history that includes black families and businesses. African American Monuments and historic markers are being acknowledged publicly for their significance. Although the community does not exist as it did, Beck Cultural Exchange Center is finding new ways for people to experience the community by creating a “Cultural Corridor”. This experience will be accessible through a walking/biking, self guided tour. When this program launches, any one will be able to learn of the impact that this lost community had on the city of Knoxville; the impact their lives had on the city and the world.
AT THE DELANEY MUSEUM
One such life was that of Beauford Delaney. A world renowned, 20th century artist, born in Knoxville, Delaney’s home is on the site of Beck Cultural Exchange Center. The center is proposing to renovate the home to accommodate the Delaney Museum at Beck – (check this link out for some beautiful images). Although born in Knoxville, Beauford Delaney went to New York and was known for his colorful paintings of street scenes and jazz clubs. He traveled the world and spent time painting and living in Paris. He was a contemporary of American novelist and activist James Baldwin, and their influence on each other’s work was balanced. Beauford Delaney has been called the most important African American artist of the 20th century.
Attention to detail does not cloud the bigger picture at Beck Cultural Exchange Center. The details add focus and clarity to the larger image that we see, that of a curator of a community’s memories and culture. Become a member, donate directly to Beck, or to the Museum, become a volunteer and sign up for the E-newsletter. There are many ways to support this important organization and their vital work.
Held Law Firm believes in the good work being done in this community. That is why we engage outside the office to partner with other organizations in this area to create interest and learning opportunities. Over the years, we have held book drives, we have promoted good citizenship by being actively involved in local elections, and have been advocates for literacy.
~~ Charis Kraski- Community Organizer, Held Law Firm