Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Septima Clarck, & Miles Horton in Monteagle, TN

Here is a little known fact of American history. Monteagle, Tennessee could be called the cradle of the Civil Rights Movement. Before the Civil Rights Movement began, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy, Rosa Parks and many other future leaders of the Movement were trained in non-violent action at Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee. The school was founded and led by Myles Horton, a white Tennessean. One of the main instructors was an African American woman, Septima Clark.

Horton suffered much persecution for his bold stand for liberty and justice for all in the days of Jim Crow racism in Tennessee. In 1960 his school, home, and land were seized by the State of Tennessee and he was forced to move out of Monteagle.

I first learned about Horton a few years ago when a street in Nashville was named for Rosa Parks. Someone wrote a column in The Tennessean and said that a street should be named for the Tennessean who helped train Rosa Parks, Myles Horton. I was moved to hear about such an American hero who was hated by many in his day and is almost unknown nowadays.

Once my wife and I were driving to Chattanooga from Nashville. We stopped in Monteagle to have lunch with some friends. I was thinking that I wish I could find the building where Highlander Folk School had been located. I had been in Monteagle several times but had never found anyone who knew anything about it. We were about an hour early for lunch so we decided to drive around the Monteagle Assembly. Before we went through the gate, I felt led to ask the woman working there if she knew where Highlander Folk School had been located. She said: “I live right across the road from it.” Then she gave us directions.

As we drove down a one lane country road we finally saw a sign that read “Old Highlander Road.” We turned left and then we found the building, now a private residence, where First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt once spoke, where Pete Seeger sang, and where many of America’s Civil Rights leaders were trained.

There is nothing to mark this spot in Tennessee that was so influential in bringing about a freer America. However, the vision, the humility, and the greatness that came together there, although mainly unknown or forgotten, rang in my heart as a saw the building that had helped a movement.

Read some of Dr. King’s bold and politically incorrect statements by clicking here.

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About Steve Simms

I like to look and think outside the box. In college I encountered Jesus Christ and I have been passionate about trying to get to know Him better ever since. My wife and I long to see the power and passion of the first Christ-followers come to life in our time. I have written a book about our experiences in non-traditional church, called, "Beyond Church: An Invitation To Experience The Lost Word Of The Bible--Ekklesia." If you need encouragement, search for: Elephants Encouraging The Room and/or check out my Amazon author page. Thank you!
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24 Responses to Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Septima Clarck, & Miles Horton in Monteagle, TN

  1. Bruce Dickey says:

    Steve, thanks for sharing this story about Myles Horton and Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee. I’m blessed just hearing about the man. I’m heading over to Wikipedia and see if he is recognized there? Cheers!

  2. Steve Simms says:

    You’re welcome, Bruce. He was an amazing man. There are a couple of collections of his writings available at Amazon.

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  4. There is a state Historical marker there on Highway 41 and the local musuem in Tracy City has a section devoted to Highlander history.

    • Steve Simms says:

      Thanks, Scott. I’m going to be in Monteagle in about a week so I will try to look for the marker and maybe go to Tracy City and visit their museum.

      • James says:

        My aunt lives at the end of Old Highlander Rd. When my grandmother bought the house in the late 80s, they told her it had been a part of the school. When you are in Tracy City (my hometown,) swing by the historical society (it’s located across the street from the Dutch Maid Bakery,) they have information on it.

  5. Maggie Shults says:

    My parents bought the Highlander Folk School property in 1994. We lived there until my father passed away in 2000. This was a magical place to grow up. So rich in history….I consider myself very lucky to have been connected to this school knowing what progress was made within its walls.

  6. Steve Simms says:

    Thanks, James. I went by the Tracy City Historical Society on Sunday, but they were closed. I hope to stop in again, next time I am there.

  7. Dianna Crotzer says:

    I spent many happy days in the nursery school at Highlander. I sat with a group of children at Rosa Parks feet while she read to us. I remember waiting for Ms. Joie(Willimetz) to pick me up each day in that old beat up station wagon that served as the bus. Just the other day I had the priviledge of walking through the old library building that is now a residence. I could hear the faint sounds of Ms. Zilphia singing and playing the accordion(which she did often). I looked out the window toward the lake where I spent many summer days with other children – I had a feeling of emptyness. I left feeling melancholy because what once was a place where fairness and equality was nurtured is now gone. I just finished reading “Gringo, The Making of A Rebel” by Emil Willimetz(Ms. Joie’s husband) she sent me a copy in December 2007. I am just now getting around to reading it. Anyway Emil talked about his and Joie’s time at Highlander in parts of the book. Emil was very involved with the Civil Rights movement, and was a documentary film-maker at Highlander until he and Joie moved to Knoxville. Myles Horton was truly a giant in the civil rights movement. Myles came back to Summerfield a few times to visit with old friends, my grandfather being one of them. Myles and Ms. Zilphia are buried in the cemetery just across the road from the old compound. Emil Willimetz died in 2003.

  8. Steve Simms says:

    Dianna: Thank you for sharing your personal experiences with Highland and Myles Horton. I was touched and inspired by them!

  9. Bill Carey says:

    Well, this feels weird.

    I’m the guy who wrote the column in The Tennessean that said that we should name a street for Myles Horton.

    Apparently someone read it!

  10. Steve Simms says:

    Wow, Bill! I’m so glad you wrote the article about Myles. I had never before heard of him. Reading about Myles and reading some of his writings has had a big impact on my life. Thanks so much for introducing me to him. Also, this is my top read blog post ever.

  11. Bill Carey says:

    Click here to read a virtual tour of Highlander on the web site I operate:

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  13. Carole Taylor says:

    My father was a good friend of Myles Horton, so I spent some time with Myles and his wife and daughter because I’m about their daughter’s age. My grandmother was great friends with May Justus and Vera Campbell, a writer and a teacher who supported the school and lived down the road from the place. But being so young when all the civil rights movement was beginning, and bigotry and commuphobics were all the rage, I didn’t know I was growing up in the midst of history. I wish I’d paid more attention, or that all of us who lived here had. Many of us grew up to be on the right side (which is to say, the left side) of history in spite of the nasty atmosphere that surrounded us like the other fog for which the Mountain is famous.

  14. Steve Simms says:

    Thanks for sharing that, Carole!

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  16. Peter Callens says:

    Good to see references to Highlander – growing up in USA never heard of Highlander – then going to graduate school in Canada about 15 yrs ago I heard about it for the first time. I visited the newer site of Highlander outside Knoxville -and was very pleased to see some of the spirit continue. Unfortunately Highlander continues to be one of the best kept secrets in USA.

  17. Septima Clark, an African-American woman, led the Highlander training Rosa Parks attended. It is shocking to read this white-washing of the history of the Highlander School, which was of all things, a history of integration.

    • Steve Simms says:

      Thanks for your comment! No whitewashing intended. I wasn’t there and can only write based on the research I find. Will you please post any link that will correct it? My point is that Miles Horton and others stood with the movement against great persecution.

  18. Here is one source: Glen, John M. Highlander: No Ordinary School. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1996). There are others. I know that it wasn’t consciously intended, but look at the title of this post. Where is the power, authority, knowledge placed–with, literally, the “white man.” I would encourage you to try and view that title from the perspective of African-Americans and women in general. We get tired of the “white man” getting all the credit. Septima Clark was a smart, hard-working, courageous educator and activist who had the trust and respect of other African-Americans interested in bringing about change. Myles Horton, as a white man, did not have their trust but he did have access to financial resources. He was committed and savvy enough, then, to hire Clark who led the trainings. I get that your point is that “White” people and African-American worked together for civil rights but that is not the message of this title and post. Just a little more research would reveal that story, if you want it to.

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