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The impetus for this new project was Girl Scout Mia Warren, who brought her Gold Award project to East Tennessee Historical Society and Knox County Public Library team members to develop a comprehensive gallery tour for visually impaired guests using interpretive text and written descriptions of key objects. Mia was inspired to pursue this as her Gold Award project after visiting museums with her friend Campbell Rutherford, who is visually impaired. “It would be nice not to rely completely on someone else, so if I wanted to stay back and finish looking at an exhibit, while someone else went on ahead, I could have that freedom,” remarked Campbell.

Approximately 20 million Americans (or 8%of the US population) have some degree of visual impairment. Museums across the country offer varying degrees of access for visually impaired guests, from Braille handouts to audio tours.

Campbell recommended an innovative method that allows visually impaired visitors to utilize screen readers on their personal devices. Instead of being asked to carry an audio stick, download a separate application, or use other unfamiliar technology, the MIA system allows guests to scan QR codes placed strategically throughout the History Center. These codes open webpages that contain a comprehensive written description of the space. Specially optimized for screen readers, the guest’s device then reads the description to the guest, providing them cues on how to safely navigate the space and in-depth descriptions of what is displayed in that space. The webpages may also be used by guests with restricted eyesight, who may choose to adjust the font size and contrast of the text, or by deaf-blind guests, who may access the same content via a portable Braille reader.

“It’s all about thinking of others,” said Mia. “We can help a lot of people who just want to get the full experience out of a museum.”

The East Tennessee History Center is grateful to Mia and Campbell for helping move this new accessibility initiative from discussion to action. The History Center is also indebted to Mia for the countless hours she expended in organizing the museum’s interpretive text, measuring distances between displays, and writing descriptions of objects.

MIA: Museums Increasing Accessibility is a project of the Museum of East Tennessee History and is an on-going initiative to increase accessibility in the museum for all.

About the MIA Project

Mia Warren is a Girl Scout in Troop 20496 from Knoxville, Tennessee, who was awarded a Gold Award, the organization’s highest honor, on December21, 2023, for the project MIA: Museums Increasing Accessibility. Girl Scouts pursuing a Gold Award are asked to propose and implement a lasting solution to a societal problem in their community. Mia chose museum accessibility, thinking of her family friend Campbell Rutherford of Dandridge, Tennessee, who was born with Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA), a rare type of inherited eye disorder. When the two visited museums together, they quickly learned that there were significant challenges for Campbell to have a meaningful visit. “There’s no spotting a museum and saying, ‘Oh! I might step in there for a bit,’” said Campbell. “You usually have to call ahead and see what the options are, to maybe schedule someone to walk through with you in advance. It’s more of an ordeal than it should be.”

Mia partnered with the Museum of East Tennessee History, where for the past two years she has researched best practices in museum accessibility and tested solutions for improving the museum-going experience with Campbell and other members of the visually impaired community. With assistance from team members from the East Tennessee Historical Society and Knox County Public Library, Mia created a QR code-based system that not only best served her target audience but also was able to be integrated into existing exhibitions. This system of QR codes provides access to a comprehensive written description of the museum, which allows individuals with visual impairments to navigate the entire museum independently using their own screen reader technology. Mia authored the comprehensive written description of the museum, which includes measurements between locations, all of the museum’s interpretive text, descriptions of objects on display, and other important cues.

“I didn’t realize how much I saw,” reflected Mia on her experience describing the Museum in text. “There’s a lot of hazards that you wouldn’t normally notice. On the cabin, there’s a shelf that a white cane wouldn’t be able to hit; I would have never thought about, because I can see it.” That detail, which assist visually impaired guests to safely move about the space, is now included in the MIA system.

The East Tennessee History Center is committed to increasing access for all. MIA: Museums Increasing Accessibility, which was named in honor of Mia’s hard work, is the first step in a series of planned initiatives to ensure that all guests have an equal opportunity to experience and appreciate the history of East Tennessee. For example, while Mia’s project initially focused on the museum, the MIA system has been installed throughout the East Tennessee History Center, so that visually impaired visitors to the Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection and Knox County Archives can independently navigate those spaces. Museum team members also hope to share the MIA system with other cultural institutions in hopes it becomes an industry standardized platform for accessibility. “Ideally, I would hope other museums would see this and realize that it’s not that complicated to make something accessible, “said Mia. “Then make it just like a normal thing, like you make a new exhibit and you just do this with it.”

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From the Collection

New to the Collection in 2023

Throughout the year, ETHS acquires objects and artifacts that help continue to tell stories of the people of East Tennessee. These objects come by way of gifts, purchases, or transfers. In 2023, ETHS saw 142 “new” objects added to the permanent collection, bringing the total to 16,420 Thank you to generous individuals who gifted items or donated to the Artifact Acquisition Fund.

Book Notes

What Did Southerners Have to Say about the Vietnam War?

Book Note: Joseph A. Fry, ed., Letters from the Southern Home Front: The American South Responds to the Vietnam War (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2023).

Book Notes

Honoring East Tennessee’s Veterans

The East Tennessee Veterans Memorial: A Pictorial History of the Names on the Wall, Their Lives, Their Service, and Their Sacrifice by John Romeiser with Jack H. McCall. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2020. Hardcover, $45.00)

From the Collection

June Artifact of the Month

Lewis C. Buckner (c.1856-1924). Sevier County cabinetmaker, carpenter, and housebuilder.

News SHARP Grant award graphic

ETHS thankful for SHARP grant

ETHS is grateful to have been awarded the Humanities Tennessee SHARP grant.

News East Tennessean of the Year poster.

Jenny and Randy Boyd Named East Tennesseans of the Year

The East Tennessee Historical Society named community leaders Jenny and Randy Boyd as East Tennesseans of the Year at a celebration dinner at Cherokee Country Club on November 3.

Gifts

Dale Baldwin – pocketknife owned by Albert Glenn Baldwin (1920s), University of Tennessee ROTC belt owned by Walter Scott Baldwin (1940 – 1942), The Acme Thunderer whistle, dog tags, ID case owned by Elbert Windsor Berry (1917 – 1919), Photograph of Elbert W. Perry and Co. C. 117th Infantry members (1917 – 1919), Camp Sevier letter and photograph (1918).

Alfrey Family – cigar box, eyeglasses case, ring with case from Knoxville businesses, “Drink Royal Crown” clip, Gold Rebel Railroad charm bracelet.

Family of Hugh Elmer and Marie (Lizzie) Harris – thermometer used by Marie Elizabeth (Parks) Harris, Masonic society fez cap belonging to Hugh Elmer Harris.

Greg Weinstein – Magnavox VideoWriter

Spring Place Presbyterian Church – Sunday School flags labeled “The Sabbath School That Never Closes” and “Spring Place S. School 1845”.

Anonymous – protest signs regarding Drag Show at the Tennessee Theatre labeled “I ‘heart’ (love) Drag Queens” and “Knox ‘hearts’ (loves) Drag Queens”.

Joan McGinnis – piano tuning book in brail, along with record cutter and microphone owned by donor’s uncle, Mark Wallace.

Edwina Church of God in Jesus Christ’s Name – three folk art paintings by Pastor Jimmy Morrow.

Rhys (Bebes) Claiborne – framed Diane Tunkel Hanson napkin, keepsake from the Greater Knoxville Arts Council launch event, donor was president of the Arts Council.

Jeffrey Clayton – induction certificate for Hugh Elmer Harris into the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, admission into freemasonry, and certificate of “Master of the Royal Secret” and “the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite”, 1924 incoming class photograph inducted into the “Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite”.

Lisa Oakley – posters related to the 1982 Knoxville World’s Fair and 1984 Dogwood Arts Festival.

Merikay Waldvogel in Memory of Linda Claussen – Raw edge applique titled “A Memorial: Linda Claussen” made by Bets Ramsey; patches were made by Linda Claussen and pieces cut out by her for her work, 2021.

In Memory of Linda Claussen – “Little Women” quilted by Linda Claussen, 1950.

William J. Geiger – Six pieces of Gorham Silver flatware from John W. Green engraved with initials of his wife, Elenor McClung Green (1888 – 1991).

Steve Smith – Black waist shirt belonged to Edith Hazel Renow/ McDaniel (1894-1945).

Deborah Patton – Annual catalogue of the Science Hill Institute (Session 1884-’85), Programme of Science Hill Institute (1885), Letter to the Fourth Assistant Postmaster General, Letter to D.M. Patton.

Melissa Newborn – “Madonna and Child” print by Frank McCrary, 1906

Anonymous – jewelry boxes from local businesses on Gay Street, 1930s.

William Louis and Bertha Louise Hobson Shoun Collection – Trousseau night gown that belonged to Bertha Louise Hobson Shoun, 1927.

Christa Gerkin Bryant, great granddaughter of Sarah Cogdill Williams – mourning coat worn by Sarah Cogdill Williams, 1900.

Jan Loveday Dickens – T-shirt given to teachers in Knox County to wear on their first day back after the pandemic.

John N. Fain, Jr. –coverlet, bedspread, shawl, child’s dresses, collars, bonnet, stockings, and other miscellaneous textiles belonging to Ann Duff Fain and Lynn Duff Robinson.

Les Williams – business advertising, glass plate, postcard folder featuring Bruce Leslie in a grove of ferns, view camera and tabletop used by photographer Bruce G. Leslie.

Victoria Elaine Mayes – watch and ring with freshwater pearl from Clinch River; items belonged to donor’s great aunt, Lucy Lucretia Mayes Burch (1888-1980). Father, Sterling Emery Mayes, was an elected member of the Knox County court for 45 years.

Mike Williams – McKenry Produce Co. and Knoxville Business College advertisement materials, TVA magnifying loop, and masonry line pins that read, “Knoxville/ Volunteers”.

First Friends Church – Cornerstones engraved “First Friends Church Organized 1908 Erected 1979; Ye are my friends if ye does whatsoever I command you.”; commemorative plate “Knoxville Friends Church”.

Judge Carroll L. Ross – folk art paintings by Lucile Smith

Anonymous – pocket watch and black wooden case, watch engraving reads, “Dr. John W. Cates to His Son Reuben Louis Cates 1906”.

Augusta Lay and Frank Bailey – Knoxville High School doll with assorted clothes and stand, graduates won at a reunion raffle, the couple were 1938 class graduates.

Purchases

Funded by the Frank and Virginia Rogers Foundation – Oil on canvas portrait of Robert James McKinney by Lloyd Branson in 1887.

Two cherry candlesticks made by James Hooper.

Edward Hurst (1912-1972) oil on canvas group portrait painting depicting three young members of the Howard family playing baseball overlooking Lyon’s Bend.

Black Americana related collectibles: Cotton Belt Route deck of playing cards, cast iron paperweight of a child riding a crocodile, boy eating watermelon collectible, Lucky Joe glass bank, three handmade dolls.

Purchase funded by anonymous donor – Dog tag of Percell L. Moore from Clinton, Private First-Class African American who fought in France during WWI.

Lloyd Branson (1853-1925) oil on canvas, [The Marble Haulers or The Toilers], 1919.

Framed Sammie Nicely African Mask Ceramic Plaque (1947-2015), Lloyd Branson Oil Still Life with Citrus Fruit (1861-1925), Mary Ellen Hornsby Garrett O/C Landscape with Farmer (1869-1962), Blazing Star Pattern pieced quilt by America Waller Goodwin (1835-1893), Full Blown Tulip Pattern pieced quilt by America Waller Goodwin (1835-1893).

Emily Cates Estate – collage by Emily Cates and folk-art paintings by Lucile Smith

Transfers

McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture – Various materials from their Civil War exhibit including Colt Model 1851 “Navy” Revolver, Confederate drum used by Longstreet’s men at siege of Knoxville (found December 1863), Army circular tin canteen (1861), Winter hood (Balaclava) worn by Major. Gilmore (C.S.A. Army, Gen. Kershaw’s staff), Union Army jacket worn by Corporal John Watkins, 19th Battery of the Ohio Light Artillery (1863), Collapsible telescope (1863), and more.

La Porte County Historical Society Museum – Collection of five postcards depicting various landmarks (a typical cabin, the Snodgrass House, Missionary Ridge, he Church of the Immaculate Conception, the Post Office) in Knoxville.

Rebecca P’Simer

More From The Colleciton

From the Collection

June Artifact of the Month

Lewis C. Buckner (c.1856-1924). Sevier County cabinetmaker, carpenter, and housebuilder.

Andy Fry tells us in his newest book that Southerners had a lot to say about the Vietnam War.  Much of what they wrote to national leaders and newspapers was in support of winning the war.  But they also wrote a lot that was poignant, prescient, and heart-breaking, especially about the experience of losing loved ones in the war.

Letters from the Southern Home Front is a great follow-up to Fry’s earlier (and longer) book, The American South and the Vietnam War: Belligerence, Protest, and Agony in Dixie (University Press of Kentucky in 2015).  In many ways, this book lets the reader see the raw material that historians use to draw their conclusions.  Fry reprints at length 303 of the more than 1,200 letters that he found printed in newspapers and tucked away in constituent mail folders; he used many of these to draw conclusions in his earlier book.  But now he’s offering you the opportunity to read along and see what Southerners at the time thought and wrote about the war in their own words.  And some of the chapters include as many as 72 different letters to show the range of opinion across the years of the conflict.

From the beginning, Fry shows that Southerners’ regional views shaped how they looked at the conflict in Vietnam.  For example, in 1964 (shortly after U.S. Marines landed in DaNang, South Vietnam) a North Carolinian rhetorically asked their Senator “what we would think of a foreign country [landing] troops on our shore to settle the negro question.” (p. 2)  In another example, Fry cites a Georgian writing to his Senator in 1972 (as the war was almost over): “As Southerners we should know that the greatness of a people is not merely their ability to win, but their ability to accept defeat when defeat is inevitable.” (p. 2)  As Fry lets Southerners speak for themselves, he moves us beyond the polling data that shows the general trends in opinion throughout the Vietnam War.  He has divided the book into six chapters, each with a short contextual introduction (to help us recall what was happening when these letters were written), and then he reprints the letters (with initials instead of names and omitting irrelevant information).

Chapter 1 presents the letters from pro-war Southerners, who made up the majority. As Fry points out, those in the South often wanted complete victory and therefore opposed President Lyndon B. Johnson’s limited war in Vietnam. For example, in November 1964, the mother of an Air Force serviceman in Humboldt, Tennessee, wrote Johnson, “This matter of service and war is nothing new to me, but at least back in 1943 we knew who we were at war with and for what we were fighting. Today we do not even admit to being at war. This is my plea! Either take a firm stand on foreign policy even at risk of all out war, or pull out of Viet Nam completely.” (p. 41)

The next chapter shifts to anti-war Southerners, who pollsters found were more likely to be women, people of color, and people with less education. (p. 7) In terms of regional distinctiveness, Fry notes that even those writing with an anti-war perspective focused on their patriotism, denied being radical, and asserted that their criticism did not extend to U.S. soldiers. (p. 76) An Oak Ridger writing to Senator Albert Gore in 1966 stated, “Frankly, I’d rather negotiate in humility than be guilty of committing genocide against those people who have never done a thing to us.” (p. 82)

Black Southerners are the focus of chapter three—but these are primarily letters to the editor of African-American newspapers, since Fry couldn’t identify race in the archived letters. (p. 4) Fry noted overall that Black Americans were primarily interested in how the war would impact the on-going Civil Rights Movement. For example, a February 1968 letter to the Louisville Defender stated, “We would not have the unrest in our cities if it were not for the knowledge that the war in Vietnam is draining away our resources so that there is no money for improving conditions in the ghettos.” (p. 140)

“Southern Families”—the title and topic of chapter four—represent those who sent their family members to fight in Vietnam as well as those who lost those loved ones. Fry points out that Southern states had 22% of the nation’s population but provided 30% of its soldiers, sailors, and airmen—and suffered 27% of its fatalities. (p. 163) A woman from Knoxville, who had lost a nephew in the war, pleaded with Senator Gore in 1966: “We ask you, in the name of one young Tennessee Corporal’s family, and all of the other families we do not know, Americans and Asians, to make every effort in your power, as a Senator, as a national Democratic leader, to help bring this war to some sort of settlement, not a Pyrrhic victory.” (p. 171).

Chapter five is a bit different, as it tackles two distinct topics. Tennesseans didn’t write much on Arkansas Senator J. William Fulbright—whose televised Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings challenged both Johnson’s and President Richard Nixon’s conduct of the Vietnam War. But citizens of the Volunteer State had lots to say about the treatment of Lieutenant William Calley, a Floridian and the only soldier prosecuted for the 1968 My Lai massacre. Tennessee Senator Bill Brock received letters from 3,500 constituents on the issue (p. 225). A letter from a Knoxville woman expressed one of the consistent themes in this correspondence: “We send our soldiers to fight a war in a country where life is held cheaply; a country where women and children fight as savagely as the men; a country where it is almost impossible to tell your friends from your enemies; and where a man must kill for his own survival.” (p. 233)

In the last chapter, Fry provides Southern letter-writers’ hostile and impatient views of antiwar protestors, who they tend to identify as students. But students in the South were less likely to be engaged in anti-war protests than their peers in other regions. Nonetheless, some 3,000 students at the University of Tennessee participated in protests in May 1970—the high point of student activism against the war. Tennesseans, such as a Spring City letter-writer, exclaimed bitterly “that our men are facing death on the frontiers of democracy while others of their age are being rabble-roused by hardcore communist sympathizers or actual undercover cell workers.” (p. 275)

Letters from the Southern Home Front breathes life into the complex views Americans expressed about the Vietnam War. It is a great resource for teachers and anyone interested in better understanding the war from a Southern perspective.

Amy L. Sayward, Middle Tennessee State University

More Book Notes

Book Notes

Honoring East Tennessee’s Veterans

The East Tennessee Veterans Memorial: A Pictorial History of the Names on the Wall, Their Lives, Their Service, and Their Sacrifice by John Romeiser with Jack H. McCall. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2020. Hardcover, $45.00)

Adjacent to Knoxville’s World’s Fair Park and under the shadow of the Sunsphere, an 8,000-square-foot area–with 32 granite pylons, benches, a bell tower, and a circular plaza—honors the East Tennessee veterans who sacrificed their lives for their country and pays tribute to the area’s tradition of military service.  More than 6,200 names from the state’s 35 eastern counties, as well as the area’s fourteen Medal of Honor recipients (beginning in World War I) are inscribed on those pylons; additional names are added annually as they are discovered.  Dedicated in 2008, the East Tennessee Veterans Memorial is a fitting tribute and place to remember and reflect on those Tennesseans who gave their lives.  It has subsequently become an integral part of the community during veteran-centric holidays and commemorations.

John Romeiser (Professor Emeritus of French at the University of Tennessee) and Jack McCall (a Knoxville attorney who writes extensively on military history) have written a book that serves as a companion to the memorial and a ready resource on those lost in service from the area.  It profiles the East Tennessee Medal of Honor recipients and over 350 servicemembers, who represent a small sampling of the names currently engraved on the granite pylons.  In this way, the authors lend depth to the memorial, showing what these veterans endured and why they are so justly honored.  Using stories primarily collected by the East Tennessee Veterans Memorial Association (ETVMA) website (where researchers and families are free to input information about service members), the authors carefully chose and verified the veterans’ stories and images included in the book.  Romeiser and McCall also selected veterans whose stories show the full nature of military casualties and loss while also humanizing those names engraved in granite.

But the book’s purpose is much more than to complement the memorial.  It also supports the goals of the ETVMA, which are to remember, honor, educate, and inspire the public.  Education is the organization’s most important goal and where this book excels.  Much more than an encyclopedia, the authors show the full nature of tragedy and loss that these service members suffered.  To do this, they divided the book into sixteen thematic chapters focusing on different time periods (starting with World War I).  Each chapter begins with a historical introduction explaining the period covered and then tells the stories of the veterans killed.  For example, Chapter Six highlights the Tennesseans who suffered as prisoners of war (POWs) during World War II.  It begins by explaining the differences between the various German and Japanese POW camps as well as the legal requirements (the Geneva Conventions) they were supposed to uphold.  Then the chapter transitions to those Tennesseans lost at the camps—who they were, what they endured, and how they died.  Instead of just providing individual vignettes, the veterans’ stories are interwoven into a dynamic narrative, moving from one story to another while the authors provide additional historical context.  Other chapters cover different periods and topics, including the 30th Division in World War I, Japanese “hellships,” women who served, and Vietnam.

The last chapter is “The Roll of Honor,” which lists all 6,262 names currently on the memorial pylons chronologically by conflict, then alphabetically by county and branch of service.  It is a reliable resource for those interested in knowing who is represented and in verifying if a known veteran is memorialized or missing (since additional names can be added to the memorial). The book also features notes, a glossary, a selected bibliography, and a comprehensive index.

Overall, Romeiser and McCall have created an extensive volume that properly honors the sacrifice of all the men and women remembered at the East Tennessee Veterans Memorial.  This book makes a valuable addition to local libraries, any veterans’ organizations, and everyone who has an interest in East Tennessee’s veterans and all that they have sacrificed for our state and nation.  As such, it was recognized by the East Tennessee Historical Society with an Award of Distinction.

Darrin Haas, Tennessee National Guard Public Affairs Office

More Book Notes

Book Notes

What Did Southerners Have to Say about the Vietnam War?

Book Note: Joseph A. Fry, ed., Letters from the Southern Home Front: The American South Responds to the Vietnam War (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2023).

June Artifact of the Month

Lewis Buckner is an example of a craftsman who continued to make beautiful individualized works even after mass production became commonplace.
Many examples of his work can be found in Sevier County, where he built homes from 1880 to 1921. He embellished his houses with Victorian design elements. Furniture, mantles, and cabinets made by Buckner remain prized family heirlooms.
When Buckner died in May 1924, his obituary read, “He was one of the best known colored citizens in this county and was famous for his fine work as a cabinet maker.”
Born into slavery in Strawberry Plains (Jefferson County,) Buckner learned his trade as a cabinetmaker’s apprentice after the Civil War. Although he had a shop in Sevier County, he preferred to travel with a foot-powered buck saw on his back and a bag of tools, lodging at structures while he built them.
Combining patterns derived from Victorian-era architectural books with his own creativity, Buckner added complex decorative woodwork to homes and furniture he built. No two pieces of his work are exactly alike.
You can read more about Lewis Buckner from our friends at the Tennessee State Museum. You can view the two pieces shown in our permanent exhibition Voices of the Land: the People of East Tennessee, or in our online database. Purchases of these pieces made possible by the State of Tennessee.

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News

Unveiling of MIA, a new accessibility feature for the visually impaired at the Museum of East Tennessee History

The East Tennessee History Center is launching a new accessibility program that aids individuals with visual impairments in touring the Museum of East Tennessee History and navigating the various floors of the History Center.

From the Collection

New to the Collection in 2023

Throughout the year, ETHS acquires objects and artifacts that help continue to tell stories of the people of East Tennessee. These objects come by way of gifts, purchases, or transfers. In 2023, ETHS saw 142 “new” objects added to the permanent collection, bringing the total to 16,420 Thank you to generous individuals who gifted items or donated to the Artifact Acquisition Fund.

Book Notes

What Did Southerners Have to Say about the Vietnam War?

Book Note: Joseph A. Fry, ed., Letters from the Southern Home Front: The American South Responds to the Vietnam War (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2023).