I often walk an unfamiliar city, letting it lead me where it will. So, on a Saturday in early September, 2022, I walked Chattanooga for a day before attending a family wedding on Sunday. I confess to making one car trip early Sunday morning to briefly visit Lookout Mountain (see below). From here I could view the city and see how it is situated between the Appalachian Mountains (south, where I stood in the rain) and the Cumberland Plateau to the north beyond the Tennessee River (see photos 2 and 3 below).
Given Chattanooga’s central role in the War Between the States, it makes sense to find a Civil War cannon cast in relief on some of the city’s sewer covers. Cannons, once within earshot if not quite visible, loomed over this strategically important city.
At the beginning of the Civil War, a majority of East Tennessee, which included Chattanooga and Hamilton County, fell on the pro-Union side; both city and county rejected a referendum calling for secession (February, 1861). However, in a second referendum of June, 1861, the county remained pro-Union, but Chattanooga voted for secession. With this, many Union sympathizers abandoned the city.
Two years later, what is called the Battle for Chattanooga took place (November 23-25, 1863). At the end of its third day, General Ulysses S. Grant managed to secure victory for the Union forces. Once the North gained control of Chattanooga with its railroad lines and river access, the stage was set for what would turn out to be a final, major push the following year: William T. Sherman’s “March to the Sea.” Four months later, Robert E. Lee and the Confederacy would surrender at Appomattox, Virginia.
The top two photographs, taken from Point Park, situate us south of Chattanooga. The bottom two photographs find us three-and-a-half miles distant at the north edge of the city, where two adjacent bridges cross the Tennessee River–one for automobiles and one now only for pedestrians. The bridges lead to what is now North Chattanooga. But in the nineteenth century, that far side, although part of Hamilton County, was not Chattanooga. Chattanooga ended at the south shore of the river. I would bet that some of those Union sympathizers who fled the city in June of 1861, yet chose to remain in Hamilton County, most likely boated across the river from right here.
Some refer to the automobile bridge as the Market Street Bridge, but its official name is the Chief John Ross Bridge. This name celebrates the first known establishment: Ross’s Landing. In 1816, John Ross (with brother Lewis) started a trading post, a warehouse, and a ferry service here. At that time, this south side of the river belonged to the Cherokee Nation. John Ross, through his mother, was Cherokee. His father was Scottish, but because the Cherokee were matrilineal, any child born of a Cherokee mother was considered part of the family and clan.
Thus, in 1816, only the north side of the river was Hamilton County and part of the USA (Tennessee achieved Statehood in 1796). Only in 1838 was Ross’s Landing renamed Chattanooga, becoming part of the American nation. More about this later, but first I offer some brief, personal thoughts on the city and its architecture.
Broad Street may not be much of a boulevard in its width, yet it has trees planted down its center. Trees give a special quality to downtown Chattanooga; they subdue the dominance of automobile and roadway, and certainly provide welcome shade in the summer months.
Market Street, which funnels into the Chief John Ross Bridge (see above and see map below), still serves as a main thoroughfare out of town. Automobile showrooms always crop up on such arterial roads, and this building, now serving Derryberry Public Relations, looks suspiciously like a 1920s auto dealership. It is appropriately located for this purpose, and would have served Chattanooga which, by 1903, already had its first automobile sales establishment.
Located on a bluff just east and above the two bridges we have seen, the Federal Style Faxon-Hunter mansion became a gallery of art in 1952 and then grew into this larger museum complex. Its area today is known as the Bluff View Art District, offering housing for some of the city’s wealthier citizens. The mansion’s elegant, Corinthian, two-story portico, visible in this photograph, is a clear reference to the south elevation of the White House; this is also as close as I came to the museum, given my intention to stay outdoors and to see as much of the city as possible in one day.
My general impression of early twentieth-century architecture in Chattanooga is one of modestly-scaled, elegant revivalism typical of its period, as indicated by this row of buildings on Broad Street.
Also typical of its period is the pared-down, Art-Deco classicism of this combination Courthouse and Post Office, clearly part of our nationwide federal construction program under the Public Works Administration. Reuben Hunt was the most prominent local architect and often worked with outside architects in his major commissions: here with the New York architects who designed the Empire State Building, or in the Tivoli Theater we saw above, with the Chicago-based designers of movie palaces, Rapp & Rapp. Even before him, as in the earlier Faxon-Hunter mansion, local architects teamed up with an outside chief design firm, Meade & Garfield out of Cleveland.
What particularly intrigued me as I walked the city was the skewed orientation of many buildings, seemingly due to changes in elevations of the land and to direction of the streets. The Ochs Building (above), once the city’s tallest building, adjusts its two elevations to the obtuse angle of the intersecting roads. The Pickle Barrel (directly above) narrows to this point as the result of being located at the intersection of Market Street (feeding south from the Chief John Ross Bridge) and Georgia Avenue (feeding south from the Veterans Bridge). Its location would be slightly below the “n” of the bolded “Chattanooga” lettering on the map below.
Those two competing grids (Market and Georgia) very likely derive from different periods of urban development: the Market Street grid most likely being the city’s earliest road grid, the Georgia Avenue grid being later or at least deriving from what may have been a separate early settlement.
To me, these irregularities enliven the urban fabric of Chattanooga and ought to whet the appetite and imagination of any urban planner.
The Elkins Building may not conform to the stylistic characterizations I cited earlier, but it’s unusual design, so simple and nicely scaled, was too tempting to ignore.
The Tennessee Aquarium buildings return us to Ross’s Landing at the south edge of the river. As with the Hunter Museum, I never ventured inside, but they create focal points defining a large, multi-use public plaza which is known as Ross’s Landing Park Plaza. Besides the two buildings, designed by the same firm responsible for the New England Aquarium in Boston and the National Aquarium in Baltimore, the public plaza with its fountains, shallow “river” for wading, colorful banded paving and one of two “vegetated entry arches” (one seen directly above) are designed by the New York environmental arts studio, SITE.
Standing on the Plaza just west of the Aquarium buildings is this statue of a Cherokee warrior holding a spear and a draft of fish. Three plaques accompany him: one identifying the sculpture and artist; one the statue donor and a local philanthropist; one (seen below) honoring “Native Americans who for 10,000 years lived in this place.”
The Cherokee and Chattanooga share many links: John Ross, for one. Also, the fact that the land south and east of the Tennessee River belonged to the Cherokee Nation prior to 1838. Even the name, Chattanooga, is derived from the Cherokee word, Tsatanugi, a reference to rock or mountain coming to a point–in other words, to Lookout Mountain.
The two quotations in this plaque– from a Jesuit field report of 1640 and from William Penn of 1685–ought not be construed as descriptions of Cherokee Natives. To my knowledge, Jesuit missionaries did not operate in this region, nor did William Penn, who was dealing with Delaware chiefs in his land purchases for Philadelphia. Instead, these are generic descriptions of the “Noble Savage.”
If we walk a few hundred feet east of Jud Hartmann’s Cherokee sculpture, we encounter reminders of a more troubling history of the Cherokee (and Native Americans in general) as our expanding country sought solutions to the “Indian Problem” through the usurpation of ancestral lands, forced removal, forced assimilation and countless other actions intended to expunge Native American culture and identity.
I applaud Chattanooga for embracing this less comfortable history in its urban fabric in the two following projects, both within Ross’s Landing: one a set of incised history pavers found under foot; the other a permanent walk-through art installation designed by Cherokee artists from Oklahoma and installed in 2005.
This first photo captures the proximity of these pavers to the Aquarium buildings. Unable to find references to them anywhere, I will name them Cherokee History Pavers. My guess is that they date from ca. 1990.
Old Tassel was a regional Cherokee chief who advocated for peace between the European-American frontiersmen and the Chickamauga Cherokee, who were led by Dragging Canoe. Even though a peacekeeper, he was murdered by white settlers while taking part in a truce parley in 1788. This is a conclusion of a speech he made in July 1785 to the Continental Congress of the United States. In this speech, Old Tassel was arguing for a recognition of equivalency between European-Americans and Native Americans.
The great spirit has placed us in different situations. He has given you many advantages, but he has not created us to be your slaves. We are a separate people. He has stocked your lands with cows, ours with buffalo; yours with hogs, ours with bears; yours with sheep, ours with deer. He has given you the advantage that your animals are tame, while ours are wild and demand not only a large space for range, but art to hunt and kill them. They are, nevertheless, as much our property as other animals are yours, and ought not be taken from us without our consent, or for something of equal value.
Dragging Canoe was a war chief and leader of the Chickamauga Cherokee. In 1775 he challenged the sale of 20 million acres of tribal land (much of Kentucky and middle Tennessee) to a land speculator named Richard Henderson (the Transylvania Purchase). Without unanimous tribal consent, such deals were not considered binding; his prediction/promise would come to be.
You have bought a fair land, but will find its settlement dark and bloody.
Though this quotation sounds like it could be about an actual battle, it is Dragging Canoe complaining to the Cherokee legal representative, John Stuart, how the Transylvania Purchase has deprived the tribe of its rightful land.
The white men have almost surrounded us, leaving us only a little spot of ground to stand upon and it seems to be their intention to destroy us as a nation.
R. J. Meigs served in the Continental Army as a Colonel during the Revolutionary War. In 1801, he went to Tennessee to serve, in part, as Indian Agent to the Cherokee Nation. Indian Agents, besides assuring the proper licensing of land sales, were expected to acculturate the ‘Indian’ into the domestic activities and agricultural practices of the European colonists. In this regard, the sentence following the quotation is telling: “But without the knowledge of tillers [of the soil] civilization can hardly be said to exist.”
To fix the precise point where barbarity terminates and when civilization begins is perhaps impossible.
A letter of July 2, 1817, signed by 67 Cherokee and addressed to “Friends and Brothers” refers to a prior meeting with President Jefferson (before his leaving office) and pleads for recognition of “the will and interest of a large majority of our nation….We appeal to our father the President of the United States to do us justice. We look to him for protection in the hour of distress. We are now distressed with the alternative proposal to remove from this country to the Arkansas, or stay and become citizens of the United States….We are not yet prepared to adapt ourselves to the laws of the United States….We therefore request that you will press the subject no further at present, but suffer us to remain in peaceable possession of this our country, presented to us by our great father, the Good Spirit…”
You tell us to speak freely and make our choice…our choice is to remain on our lands.
This quotation was written by the Cherokee to their Acting Agent, Joseph McMinn, and its complete sentence ends like this: “…and that the Government of the United States have no police over us, further than a friendly intercourse in trade.”
McMinn’s reply of November 23, 1818 to the “King and Chiefs of the Cherokee Nation” is accusatory, belligerent and demeaning. He writes, in part, that the receipt of their communication was “calculated to wound my feelings….It must surely be, my brothers, that you view me as an imposter, acting…with a view to deceive your nation….You act as though you were insensible of trampling upon the highest authorities known to the constitution and laws of the United States….you deserve the severest censure….[and] were it not for the protecting arm of the United States, your nation would become the victims of fraud and violence….You oppose the principle…of taking reservations, which forms the only certain road to your becoming a religious, moral, and industrious people….Your people…must become industrious from necessity, for none ever will be from choice; and the greater the space they have to occupy, the greater will be their inducement to idleness.”
We consider ourselves as a free and distinct nation.
This quotation appears to be a part of Article 5 (of 8 Articles) of a Treaty of February 27, 1819, signed by John C. Calhoun, Secretary of War and 12 Cherokee chiefs, including John Ross. Most of the Treaty ceded more land to white settlement, which was inevitable and already happening, and the signatories knew this Treaty would not please much of their tribe. Today, we know that most of these treaties would be broken by the U. S. government.
All white people who have intruded on the lands reserved for the Cherokees shall be removed by the United States.
I was unable to find any reference to this quotation. However, Andrew Jackson was elected president eight years after 1820, the date of this statement. As President, Jackson fully supported the removal of Native Americans from their homeland, even though, in 1814, he vowed lasting friendship with the Cherokee (who had fought with him against the Creek in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend): “As long as the sun shines and the grass grows there shall be friendship between us…”
Clearly, by 1820, Jackson’s friendship had dissipated and he no longer saw differences among ‘Indian’ tribes.
It is high time to do away with the farce of treating with Indian tribes as separate nations.
On February 28, 1823, Chief Justice John Marshall cited what was known as the “Doctrine of Discovery,” which the papacy had decreed in the 12th century. Using these Papal Bulls as precedent, Marshall argued that England had “the exclusive right of the discoverer to appropriate the lands occupied by Indians” and that right now falls to the U. S. government as successors to England. He said the ‘Indians’ “were an inferior race of people….[and] were fierce savages, whose occupation was war, whose subsistence was drawn chiefly from the forest. To leave them in possession of their country, was to leave the country a wilderness.”
The below sentence is a slightly abbreviated version of the Cherokee’s futile protest to this Supreme Court ruling.
Our title has eminated [sic] from a supreme source which cannot be impaired by conquest or treaty.
John Ross very likely spoke these words when, in 1824, he petitioned Congress on behalf of the Cherokee.
The Cherokee are not foreigners but original inhabitants of America.
We… the people of the Cherokee Nation… in order to establish justice, welfare, tranquility, promote our common welfare, and secure ourselves and our posterity the blessings of liberty, acknowledging with humility and gratitude the goodness of the sovereign ruler of the universe, in offering us an opportunity so favorable in the design and imploring his aid and direction in its accomplishment, do ordain and establish the constitution for the government of the Cherokee Nation.
Georgia’s legislature had passed laws allowing it to divide and distribute Cherokee land to the White citizens of the state. The Cherokee argued that their several treaties with the U. S. government gave them sovereignty and federal protection, thus insulating them from the jurisdiction of any state. Writing for the majority (there were two dissenters), John Marshall defined the Cherokee Nation as a “domestic dependent nation,” not a foreign state. Because of this, the Supreme Court had no jurisdiction and so could not hear the Cherokee petition. His final words, following the quotation, were: “The motion for an injunction is denied.”
If it be true that the Cherokee Nation have rights, this is not the tribunal in which those rights are to be asserted… this is not the tribunal which can redress the past or prevent the future.
On May 28, 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, authorizing him to grant ‘Indian’ tribes unsettled lands west of the Mississippi River in exchange for their lands within the borders of existing states. So began the Trail of Tears, a forced displacement of over 60,000 Native Americans, beginning with the Choctaw in 1831 and ending with the Cherokee in 1838. Here is where that Trail began.
And here is where, eight generations later, Cherokee artists returned to grace Chattanooga with this lovely installation.
The Cherokee artists explain their purpose in this plaque on the retaining wall below Ross’s Landing Park Plaza:
The Trail of Tears…passed through this place…and this journey will never be forgotten. Through perseverance the Cherokee people survived….To truly honor the memories of our ancestors, past and present, we felt it necessary to create contemporary public art…that inspires an appreciation of Chattanooga’s artistic past….Through this art installation, we feel as though we are symbolically returning to our ancestral homeland.
The retaining wall weeps the tears of the Cherokee. Those ‘tears’ descend as a stream, expand into a cascade, and flow down to the Tennessee River.
In each of seven levels, the cascade opens into a place to rest and gaze across the cascading water to six-foot ceramic discs. Each disc is a visual symbol bearing particular meaning in the Cherokee culture. Inlaid into the pavement at ones feet are explanations of each symbol.
From the Early Mississippian period, the Sun Circle symbolizes the Holy Sun in the form of a sacred fire sent by the Creator. The cross is emblematic of the four logs that keep the fire burning. The star in the center represents the seven Cherokee clans.
Also from the Early Mississippian period, this signifies Cherokee migrations: North from the ancestral homeland, East to temporary settlement, South for fourteen generations of peace, West where upheaval, death and sorrow awaited.
From the Middle Mississippian period, two wild turkeys face off, representing the players of the traditional stickball game known as “Little Brother to War.”
From the Late Mississippian period, this represents the two roads traveled: the secular Red Road (Indian Way) in color, the spiritual White Road of Eternity.
From the Mississippian and early Proto-Historic periods, this illustrates the counter-clockwise rotation of the Stomp dance around the sacred fire. Its rotation also represents weather patterns and celestial movements.
From the middle to late Proto-Historic period, this shows the Winged Serpent who descends to impart traditional teachings and wisdom to the Cherokee. In the present, 21st-century context, it signifies the importance of not forgetting tribal customs and ancient knowledge.
From the early Proto-Historic period, ritual masks like this represented the Falcon Warrior and were believed to possess talismanic powers to protect its wearer from harm.
Occupying the pool at the end of the cascade, the Little Water Spider, a mid-Mississippian design, had the gift of prophecy and foretold that the Cherokee would go west and suffer death. The Little Water Spider also brought the Sacred Fire down to the Cherokee; that same fire would be carried west during the Trail of Tears and still burns today.
Ed Johnson Memorial
On a bluff above the river, a few hundred yards east of The Passage, is the Ed Johnson Memorial. Although part of it descends towards the river, I only documented this upper level section.
This installation shares a commonality with The Passage as both refer to a history of racial terror in America: Native American genocide (as some call the “Trail of Tears”) and the lynching of Black Americans as an unconscionable form of racial control.
This Memorial is adjacent to the Walnut Street Bridge from which Ed Johnson was hanged in 1906.
Centered here are the three primary figures: Ed Johnson with his two lawyers, Styles Hutchins and Noah Parden. His pleas of innocence are seen in the text ribbons on the pavement. Embedded in the surrounding wall are plaques that provide a history of this horrendous act, some of which I picture below.
...By the early 1900s, Chattanooga’s black community represented more than one-third of the city’s population…
…In the decades following emancipation, the terror of lynching became a primary means of enforcing white supremacy in Southern communities….Hamilton County is known to be the site of 5 of Tennessee’s 214 confirmed lynchings. The sculptures on the hillside below pay homage to these [other four] men.
On January 25, 1906, Ed Johnson was falsely accused of raping Nevada Taylor, a local white woman….Johnson’s accuser was a local man who blamed him for the rape in order to collect a $375 reward offered by the Hamilton County Sheriff…
The Sheriff and Judge…were facing re-election, and both men were anxious to secure a conviction against Johnson so that they would appear tough on the “Negro crime problem”…
…Hutchins and Parden, Chattanooga’s most prominent black attorneys…petitioned the United States Supreme Court…to review Johnson’s conviction….On March 18, 1906, the United States Supreme Court stayed Johnson’s execution…
Enraged by the federal court intervention, a white mob stormed the Hamilton County Jail on March 19, 1906….bound Johnson with rope and dragged him six blocks to the Walnut Street Bridge, where they hanged him and riddled his body with bullets…
After brief prison terms…Sheriff Shipp was given a hero’s welcome by white Chattanoogans and was re-elected….Parden and Hutchins…faced death threats in Chatanooga and were forced to flee the city…
Here I offer parts of a poem by high-schooler Lily Rhyne followed by a statement by Ida B. Wells.
What we can do is not repeat the past….Try to amend, in the present, the Mistakes of the past….And be as forgiving as he who Forgave the unforgivable.
We cannot remain silent when the lives of men and women who are black are lawlessly taken, without imperiling the foundations of our government.
Selected fragments from the sculptor’s poem, Going Beyond:
We see Ed Johnson walking….We see him walking into and beyond the grotesqueness of his impending death Its trademark noose lying behind him at his feet….We see his innocence disregarded by those trampling justice underfoot….At what point walking the journey of his abbreviated life Did Ed Johnson acquire the ability to speak with such courage and comprehension in the face of abject violence: “May God Bless you all; I am an innocent man”….We see Ed Johnson walking.
Five Other Sculptures
One of four statues of the Seasons that flank Market Street made by local artist Daud Akhriev (born and trained in Russia).
This sculpture, also by a local artist, is a memorial in honor of police, as explained by the accompanying plaque (pictured below). Its placement, adjacent to a major street, seems a bit unusual, yet also an enhancement to a particularly long and otherwise undifferentiated length of sidewalk. It appears to be a generic memorial, not one in memory of any particular incident or death; however, in the two years prior to its erection, two city police officers were killed.
This sculpture was selected through a public voting system as part of the Hunter Museum’s Art in Public Places project. Miller Plaza, located in the center of downtown, is a major venue for public gatherings and events, including a weekly Friday nightfall concert series during the Summer months. Oppenheim, who died in 2011, was best known as a conceptual artist and earth artist.
When made out of stainless steel, books and CDs survive just fine in this fountain setting outside the entrance to the Public Library. Jim Collins is a local artist and lives in Signal Mountain, Tennessee
Although painted to appear as bronze, this sculpture is cast aluminum. Leopold Scholz also made the pedimental sculptures of the Nashville Parthenon (see my blog post on Nashville), and has sculptures in the National Statuary Hall in Washington D.C.
Art beyond the City Center
The Stove Works was an industrial building built in 1915 to manufacture coffins and, several decades later, cast iron stoves; in 2017, it became a very interesting venue for the promotion of contemporary art through exhibits and a residency program for artists. These first three photos show a mural done by local high school students on the boundary wall of its extensive outdoor display yard.
The mural, done in several sections, deals with the issues of bullying, drug abuse and gang activity as experienced in the city schools.
This necklace, made from melted-down lead bullets, is part of a display by one of the artists-in-residence at Stove Works. It, and other pieces by her, expose the contradictions between the objects she creates–meant to enhance beauty and status, like this necklace–and the material from which the object is made, in this case lead, an extremely toxic base metal, associated in this particular case with killing and murder.
Also in Chattanooga’s Southside and not far from Stove Works is this urban version of New York’s Storm King Art Center, an open-air museum for large-scale sculpture. Although parkland for much of the previous century, it also took on construction landfill and became a brownfield until rescued in 2012 and opened four years later as Sculpture Fields. This is claimed to be the largest sculpture park in the Southeast.
Mural Art down M.L.K. Boulevard
Scroll back up to that map and look for the bolded “Chattanooga” lettering. Its double Os hover over East Martin Luther King Boulevard which runs ESE. Our walk through Chattanooga will conclude here in what is called the Martin Luther King/Big 9 neighborhood, where we will encounter some examples of mural art. The first mural, documented in the next eleven photos, covers all exterior walls of the AT&T Building. With over 42,000 square feet of surface, this painting prides itself as the largest mural in the Southeast and the first to wrap around an entire city block.
This, and almost all the murals in this district, are either about Black oppression in America or directly inspired by Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” of August 28, 1963. In fact, the title, We Will Not Be Satisfied Until, is taken from the middle point of King’s speech:
There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality….We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
This mural of 42,179 square feet was not painted alone by Philadelphia artist Meg Saligman. She put together a team of eleven artists of which six were local, and, in order to engage the entire community in this project, invited another 565 local citizens into the painting/creating process. The people represented in the mural are also portraits, selected by the artists from the neighborhood and city. So, too, the landscapes, as seen in the above photo, where we can make out a promontory of Lookout Mountain with the city and Tennessee River in the distance below.
This painting has a complex iconography, some of it evoking passages from King’s 1963 Speech at the Lincoln Memorial, and many other elements more likely best explained with the help of local residents who worked on it.
One former example can be found in the MLK Blvd. wall seen in the foreground (above): its triangular composition of five people rising from a rock promontory denotes the “solid rock of brotherhood:” Now is the time to change racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.
And, another instance: in the Houston St. wall seen on the right, that yellow-orange explosion of color in its upper left corner denotes the “joyous daybreak to end the long night” following Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation: This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.
Other objects, like the pulley seen here, represent lifting loads, changing direction, transmitting power, all of which are emblematic of a basic theme of this mural as it relates to Chattanooga: a city in transformation. Then, more specifically, that barbershop pole seen up on the left, not only embodies one of the most common places of social gathering in Black communities, but also stands for community resilience because it represents one of the few businesses that survived two centuries of change on this Boulevard.
The fraying rope, binding two sides of the building, is emblematic of the contention of the Black and White citizens of Chattanooga during the decades of desegregation.
Here, on the King St. wall, we see to the far left a Bessie Smith vinyl record, which situates the Boulevard (originally named Ninth Street) as the city’s major music and entertainment hub; the awning above the record also refers to Ninth Street, which once had been lined with awnings; finally, the top figure in red dress, dancing with a present day resident, is Bessie Smith herself. She began her performing career, as a child, on Ninth Street.
Here, on the E. 10th St. wall, we see a figure doing a back-flip and a paper boy riding a bicycle. The back-flipper is a bit of generic iconography, an emblem of urban transformation and thus the spirit of Chattanooga. The paper boy depicts City Councilman Moses Freeman, who represents this district and, because of his boyhood paper route, was able to safely traverse Chattanooga on his bicycle despite segregation.
Finally, the Houston St. wall, shown above and in the next three photos, shows another back-flipping figure, two men of different races pulling a rope, three blocks suspended from a pulley, and flying above the city and river, a Great Blue Heron.
The three suspended cubes represent different aspects of the transformation of Chattanooga: top, the making MLK Blvd. bi-directional in 2003 rather than one-way leading out of town; middle: converting a polluted, industrial city to one with clean air; bottom: the repurposing of a Native American mound (Citico Mound).
Finally, on the Houston St. wall, this detail illustrates a Great Blue Heron in flight. The bird is native to Tennessee and is making a comeback, so offering a comparison between species preservation and the social and cultural regeneration of Chattanooga.
This wall encloses the 10th Street Substation. All the murals running down the right side were painted by twelve artists for the EPB (Electric Power Board); its theme for the year of 2022 was “Voices of MLK,” intended to embrace the historical significance of this neighborhood to Chattanooga.
This mural, too, treats a topic of historical significance: segregation. Beginning in February of 1960, thirty students from (then all-Black) Howard High School began a sit-in at the “whites-only” lunch counters of three downtown establishments. Six months later, all Chattanooga lunch counters were desegregated, and three years later all public facilities were integrated.
Inspired by Dr. King’s vision of justice and racial equality, young participants put their dreams for the future in the various dream bubbles in this mural. JJ’s Bohemia is a popular venue for music, stand-up comedy and open-mike nights.
My apologies for not noting either the name of this establishment or its address. That it advertises itself both with a painting in honor of King’s I Have a Dream speech and a bold statement against Fascism is appropriate. As Jason Stanley, Yale Professor of Philosophy, writes, “The history of racism in the US is fertile ground for fascism. Attacks on the courts, education, the right to vote and women’s rights are further steps on the path to toppling democracy.”
And so I end my walk around Chattanooga with this photograph because it says something important about the city. It says that Chattanooga is, maybe, less conservative than most of its state. And, indeed, as I try to quickly check this out, I am informed that “Chattanooga tops the list of the most moderate cities in the country.” I am informed by Washington correspondent Suzanne Lynch that Chattanooga’s “citizens recently re-elected Democratic mayor Andy Berke, despite Tennessee being a Republican-heavy state.” I am informed by local historian Chuck Hamilton that “Chattanooga Country…has frequently proven very progressive, even standing at the vanguard of movements for reform, rebellion, even revolution.”