Tree Stump Speeches: What Issues are MTSU Students Passionate About?

Written by Sarah Calise, Archivist

In September 2019, we opened our latest exhibit on Albert Gore, Sr., called The Southern Statesman, near the atrium in James E. Walker Library. It was the fifth major exhibit collaboration between the Gore Center and the library since 2018, but we wanted to try something new this time. Taking advantage of the foot traffic, the exhibit featured a talk-back board.

What is a talk-back board? “A talk-back board is essentially a blank wall or freestanding board with a question printed above in large text. Somewhere within reach, visitors are provided a stack of sticky notes and a few writing utensils,” according to Dr. Josh Howard, MTSU Public History alum.

Our talk-back board featured a large image of Senator Gore speaking atop a tree stump, which is something he was known for on the campaign trail throughout Tennessee. We asked exhibit visitors, “if you were to give a fiery tree stump speech, what would it be about?”

We provided blue, green, and pink post-it notes and black Sharpie markers, and let members of the public anonymously share with us the issues that mattered most to them. Whenever one of our staff members ventured over to the library, they took a couple of photographs to see how the board changed over time. Once the board got full, we took a majority of the post-it notes down and brought them back to the archive to transcribe and analyze. After almost four months, we documented a total of 76 responses.

An example of some of the post-it note responses for the Albert Gore, Sr. talk-back board in Walker Library.

There are a few variables we need to account for before we dive into the analysis. One, there may have been more responses than the 76 we captured. Some sticky notes may have fallen off or been removed, which was one reason we tried to regularly take photographs of the board. We were able to capture a few sticky notes in the images that did not physically end up in our collection. Even though we have 76 responses, the number of people who produced them might be below 76. Comparing handwriting, it seems that some people created more than one sticky note. Finally, the issues represented via the talk-back board cannot necessarily represent the larger MTSU population because we did not poll each individual on campus. The responses are skewed toward those who were library visitors willing to participate. Also, some of these responses may very well be from people unrelated to MTSU since any member from the wider public can visit our library during operating hours.

Screenshot of what the Excel spreadsheet looks like for the Gore talk-back board.

I transcribed each sticky note message and entered the content into an Excel spreadsheet with two additional fields, one that captured the color for each post-it and another for contextual notes. I was curious if one color would reign supreme over another, but the totals were fairly even: 27 green notes, 26 blue, and 23 pink. The notes field was for non-textual content, like drawings of hearts, faces, and arrows pointing to other post-it notes which showed some interaction between responses. I also had a fourth column in which I assigned a general subject term or phrase to each post-it note in order to create a word cloud using

From the data, I created the above word cloud, which shows the frequency of subjects found in the post-it note responses. The environment was the top issue for exhibit visitors with a total of nine post-its, or nearly 12-percent. In a recent Gallup poll, climate change was one of the top ten issues heading into the 2020 presidential election. The second biggest issue for our exhibit visitors was mental health with five post-its, while several subjects were tied for third with four post-its: anti-racism, equality, Jesus, and income inequality. Other notable issues with three post-it notes included gun control, reproductive justice, and disability rights. Of course, there were some humorous or less-serious responses, like “sex, drugs, rock & roll” and “rolled chicken tacos from Taco Bell” (although I am personally very serious about my passion for tacos, too). Overall, there were more than 25 unique issues represented throughout the 76 post-it notes.

This was the first time I have tried something like a talk-back board in my public history career, and, to be honest, I was a little nervous of the outcome. Mainly, I feared that no one would participate at all. Instead, I was overwhelmed with the number and diversity of responses! So, thank you to the True Blue community for your thoughtful (and funny) post-it notes. I think it is no surprise that many of the issues discussed by the MTSU community are also major concerns on a national level, especially as we head into the 2020 presidential campaigns. One way to advocate for the issues you are passionate about is to be an informed citizen and vote in national, state, AND local elections.

Not registered to vote? Find out how you can here. The deadline for registration to vote in the primary is February 3rd.

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Monument Movements from Murfreesboro to Chapel Hill

Alissa Kane at the Ackland Art Museum.

Written by Alissa Kane, Graduate Assistant

The weekend of September 6, 2019, I made a solo journey to Chapel Hill, North Carolina to present at the Art Student Graduate Association’s Fifth Annual Symposium in Art History (try saying that title five times fast). I was hesitant to submit because it was clearly an art history conference, but they welcomed proposals from multiple disciplines and the symposium’s theme, “Community: Public, Private, Patron and Spectator,” supported my current research project. I submitted a proposal on my Master’s thesis topic, which outlines the history of the commemorative landscape in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

This project has been a year in the making, and this symposium was the first opportunity I have had to present on this research. I originally started this work in the fall of 2018. When I began researching, I discovered pretty quickly that Murfreesboro had no formal documentation of the monuments and historic markers in the city. To correct this issue, I spent (and still spend) a great deal of time trying to find documentation on the dedications of these historic markers and monuments. Through this research, I hope to identify when they were erected and who funded their construction. By answering these questions I can observe trends and perhaps answer why they were erected.

Reunion at the Confederate monument on Murfreesboro’s public square, 1929. Photo courtesy of Rutherford County Archives.

My presentation was titled “‘Built of a People’s Love’: Commemorative Practices in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.” I started off my presentation with a discussion on the Confederate monument located in Murfreesboro’s public square. In March of this year, late at night, someone had painted the phrases “Murderer,” “Fort Pillow,” and “Coward” on the three front faces of the monument. While this monument was dedicated to the Confederate dead, it is clear that these phrases are in reference to Nathan Bedford Forrest, slave trader, Confederate General and early leader of the Ku Klux Klan. During the Civil War, Forrest captured Fort Pillow in Memphis, Tennessee. The Union soldiers surrendered, laying down their arms. After Forrest captured the fort, Confederate soldiers started slaughtering the African American soldiers who surrendered. That is where the “Fort Pillow” phrase comes from on the monument. I explained to the audience that this incident is a perfect example of how Civil War memory is contested among citizens of Murfreesboro. I also pointed to one of the phrases inscribed on this monument—Built of a People’s Love—and asked whether this monument was built of all the people’s love or built of a certain people’s love?

Inscription on the Confederate monument that resides on Murfreesboro’s public square. Photo taken by author.

I provided an overview of the people, places, and events the citizens of Murfreesboro commemorate in the form of monuments. Over twenty of the monuments in the city are dedicated to the Civil War. There are currently two on the landscape dedicated to local African American history. There are three that mention women. The remaining markers and monuments are commemorating local figures, local history, or men lost to other wars. I explained to the audience that cities should care about what monuments exist on the landscape because representation matters. In the case of women and African Americans, the landscape is nearly silent on these groups’ contributions to the city’s history. Groups such as the African American Heritage Society of Rutherford County are working tirelessly to balance this narrative on the commemorative landscape. They do this by organizing, researching and dedicating historic markers to African American history in Murfreesboro. The most recent marker dedication happened in August, which increased the number of markers on the landscape dedicated to African American history from one to two.

My presentation sparked a lot of discussion, most likely because UNC Chapel Hill has had issues with Confederate memorialization on their campus. Silent Sam was a controversial Confederate monument erected on UNC Chapel Hill’s campus in the early 1900s. Last year, student protestors organized and tore down the monument as part of a larger wave of protests opposing white supremacist ideals across the South. After my talk, I decided to wander campus to look for Silent Sam’s prior location. While I was walking around campus, I ran into an “intersectional radical” student organization called the Uncontrollables who were giving a tour titled “Local Histories of Resistance.” This tour focused on the history of protest on UNC’s campus.  Luckily, I found them as they were discussing Silent Sam. The tour guides explained that there had been movements for many years pushing for the monument’s removal. This was getting nowhere, so students decided to take things into their own hands. There is no trace of where Silent Sam once was. The trees and grass in the courtyard where it stood are undisturbed and serene—it is as if the statue was never there.

The Uncontrollables discuss the African American Monument, which stood close to Silent Sam. Photo taken by author.

I returned to the symposium pondering how white supremacy and its legacy might affect protest movements throughout the South in the coming years. The African American Heritage Society of Rutherford County’s efforts, as well as student protest efforts at UNC share the same underlying message: They are trying to balance the historical narrative on southern city landscapes. Overall, our commemorative landscapes need to be more representative of the many communities they serve. As long as groups like these keep up their efforts, then we are moving in the right direction.

Visit the website for Alissa’s research, called Murfreesboro Monuments, for more information.

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New Year, New Crew

Welcome back to a new academic year, which means we have a couple of new Public History graduate assistants as well as a few returning ones. You will get to learn a little bit about each of our graduate assistants, who help with the daily operations of the Albert Gore Research Center. We value our archive as a site of learning and training. Our graduate assistants get hands-on experience in archival processing and description, reference services, exhibit curation and fabrication, oral history recording, preservation of documents and objects, classroom instruction, outreach, and more!

Our graduate assistants showing off our audio-visual storage. From front to back: Keneisha Mosley, Marley Abbott, Hannah Meller, Alissa Kane, and James Rucker.

Keneisha Mosley is a second-year M.A. student. Originally from Memphis, she received her undergraduate degree in History and Classics from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK). Her historical interests are Greek and Roman history with an emphasis on women and religion. Her thesis topic, however, focuses on analyzing the Greco-Roman architecture of fraternity and sorority houses at UTK and their relationship to antebellum style houses during the Civil War and Jim Crow segregation eras. She’s a HUGE fan of Harry Potter, and her favorite foods are tacos and chicken wings.

Marley Abbott is one of our returning graduate assistants and she is in her second year as a M.A. student. She was born in Nashville and has lived in Gallatin since 2008. She received her B.A. in History with a minor in English Literature from University of Tennessee, Chattanooga. She grew up in a military family and moved around a lot, including parts of Europe. This lifestyle gave her the opportunity to explore different cultures and experience a variety of museums, which fostered her love of history. The next places on her travel list are: the Bastogne War Museum in Belgium, the Hobbiton Movie Set in New Zealand, the State Hermitage Museum in Russia, and the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Egypt.

Hannah Meller comes to MTSU from Signal Mountain, TN and is in her first year as a M.A. student. She received her undergraduate degree in History with a minor in Travel and Tourism from Clemson University. She wishes to work in exhibit development or a research position at a history museum following her completion of graduate school. She was drawn to the public history field while attending the Governor’s School for the Scientific Study of Tennessee Heritage in the summer before her senior year of high school. Her research interests include Modern Irish History, the British and German home front during World War II, and the American South. She loves amusement parks and cheesy tourist attractions, like those you can find in Gatlinburg.

Alissa Kane is another returning graduate assistant and is in her second year as a M.A. student in the Public History program. She is from Frankenmuth, Michigan. She received her bachelor’s degree in history at Saginaw Valley State University. For her thesis, she is writing on the history of the commemorative landscape in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Her favorite TV shows are the Office and The Walking Dead. In her spare time, she likes to hike and hangout with her dog.

James Rucker received two undergraduate degrees from MTSU–one in film-making and another in philosophy and history. He locates himself within the philosophical tradition that felt philosophy had become too abstract and academic, “These philosophers (such as the pragmatists, Marxists, and existentialists) sought to escape the ivory tower and return to the rough ground of lived experience, mired in its projects, struggles, and commitments.” Their fundamental concern is how to unify theory and practice, and it is from this perspective that he approaches Public History. He enjoys parenting a gecko and doing karaoke on the weekends.

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Meet Our 2019 Summer Intern!

Written by Sarah Calise, Archivist

The Gore Center is pleased to introduce our 2019 Bart Gordon Papers summer intern, Sarah Coffman! During the spring semester, the Gore Center held a nationwide search for a graduate student in public history and archives to help process the congressional papers of former U.S. Representative Bart Gordon. Sarah will be focused on developing an efficient workflow for processing the Gordon Papers, as well as creating a public history project of her choosing.

sarah.coffman blog photo 1

Sarah is originally from Soddy Daisy, Tennessee which is a town just outside of Chattanooga. She received her undergraduate degree in History with a minor in Anthropology from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and then completed her M.A. in Public History and Archival Science from Illinois State University. She is currently pursuing her Master of Library Science from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.

What are your historical and archival interests? Why do you want to enter this professional field?

I spent my two years of graduate school working as a graduate archivist for the Jo-Ann Rayfield Archives at Illinois State and the Milner Library working to help digitize faculty research notes. I had a wonderful mentor and boss who helped to spark my archival passion. I knew I would never have the patience to teach history, so becoming an archivist/librarian is my way of educating people.

I have a wide range of focus when it comes to history interests–from the rise of nation-states in 1848 to the end of WWI to urban development history and how our choices have affected us today. My archival interests seem to be tied to my history interests. I am drawn to the Russian archives and their vast amount of information and structure.

What interests you about congressional archives?

Since I have never worked with a congressional collection, I am super curious to see the differences between processing a university collection and an individual on a larger platform.

What do you do for fun? Any cool experiences you wish to share?

I am a dog mom to Chuck. He’s a 9-year-old West Highland Terrier/Shih Tzu mix. I love him a lot. Also, my best friend (Shayla) and I want to visit every MLB stadium over the course of our lives. Our next stop is Wrigley Field this summer.

What are you looking forward to during your internship?

Honestly? Learning! Each research center or archive are different, and the more I visit and learn, the more beneficial I can be for the future archival field. Congressional collections themselves are new for me, too, so the exposure to political materials will be a helpful insight.

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Tennesseans Respond: Brown v. Board of Education

Written by Sarah Calise, Archivist

Today, May 17, marks the 65th anniversary of the 1954 United States Supreme Court decision in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, which overturned Plessy v. Ferguson and determined “separate but equal” education services are unconstitutional.

Albert Gore, Sr. was newly elected to the Senate when the Supreme Court decision came down, and his office received a hearty stack of letters from Tennesseans expressing their views on the desegregation of public schools. Similar to other issues on race during the 1950s and 1960s, a majority of the constituents who sent letters to Senator Gore were against civil rights for black Americans.

CONTENT WARNING: The following letters contain racist language and thoughts. 

Transcriptions for these letters available here.

Gore’s Tennessee constituents often made accusations of communism and encroachment on states’ rights in response to the Brown v. Board ruling. Some Tennesseans also perpetuated the racist hypersexualization of black boys by writing to Gore that they feared what school integration would mean for their white daughters. Indeed, white supremacists have long used the protection of white womanhood as an excuse for violence and discrimination toward black Americans and other people of color–the 1915 silent film The Birth of a Nation exemplified this thinking.

Senator Gore’s views on school integration, influenced by his past experience as a school superintendent and law school graduate, slightly shifted in the span of a few years. In December 1953, Gore wrote to a constituent:


Gore packing his belongs to move into his Senate office, January 1953. (Albert Gore, Sr. Papers)

“I have been reared to believe that it would be better for white children to go to white schools and be taught by white teachers…I still believe that is the best.”

He was also weary of pushing “too far, too fast” on civil rights and race relations issues, which he thought would cause more harm than good. He cited Nashville’s two black city council members as signs that the South was progressing at its own pace, and need not be ruined by any “dangerous provocation” from federal legislation or court decisions.

Following the Supreme Court’s Brown ruling in 1954, Gore was less forthcoming with his personal views in his responses to constituents. He urged Tennesseans to accept the court’s decision as “the law of the land,” but did admit that it would probably take some time to adjust and implement desegregation. He said, “We must find ways to progress in peace and harmony under the law.”

In March 1956, Gore distanced himself from Southern conservatives by not signing the Southern Manifesto, a document that attacked the Supreme Court for undermining states’ rights in the Brown decision and commended those southerners who intended to lawfully resist forced integration. Many Tennesseans wrote into Gore’s office upset with his decision to not align with these principles. In one letter dated March 28, Gore said that affixing his signature to the manifesto “would have been the easy and, at least for the moment, the politically appealing course of action.” Instead, he called the manifesto a “serious mistake” and declined to sign it because it would not “bring any improvement in a delicate and dangerous situation.”

The threat of white violence and backlash disrupted many efforts to integrate schools. In September 1956, in Gore’s own state of Tennessee, Clinton High School was the first public high school to undergo court ordered desegregation. The black students who integrated the school, often referred to as “The Clinton 12,” faced groups of hateful white people who spat on them and used racial slurs. Watch the video below from the National Education Association on the experiences of The Clinton 12.


What is the legacy of Brown v. Board today? It is an important historical event that continues to demonstrate its relevancy for present education issues. School desegregation is very much a contemporary history, especially for those school districts that took decades to even fully integrate. Currently, many scholars, journalists, civil rights activists, and educators have argued that American public schools are on the path to serious re-segregation. In 2014, PBS Frontline investigated the re-segregation of public schools. Using data from UCLA’s Civil Rights Project, Frontline summarized some of the major issues in eight charts, which explain the damaging effects of re-segregation. Overall, integrated schools are better for students of every race; integration typically means access to better education resources, greater funding, greater cultural competency, and higher graduation rates. The legacy of Brown v. Board lives on in those parents and activists who continue to fight for equal education opportunities for all American children.

To research this topic and others in the Albert Gore, Sr.. Papers, please contact us at the Albert Gore Research Center.

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Albert Gore Research Center’s 25th Anniversary

Written by Sarah Calise, Archivist

As we wrap up the 2018-2019 academic year, the Albert Gore Research Center’s 25th anniversary celebrations will also come to a close. Starting today through the beginning of May, we will post 25 highlights from our collections across our social media platforms, specifically Facebook and Twitter. Look for the hashtag #GoreCenter25. Additionally, Director Dr. Louis Kyriakoudes and Gore Center staff invite the public to our Open House this Friday, April 12 from 9AM-4PM. We will display highlights from our collection in our research room, we will conduct small group tours of our archival storage, we will provide information on how to donate to our archive, and there will be some refreshments in our conference room from 1:00-3:00PM, so come join us!

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Senator Albert Gore, Sr. speaks passionately before an audience.

How did the Albert Gore Research Center get its start? The answer is in our name! Middle Tennessee State University acquired the congressional papers of Albert Gore, Sr. (MTSU Class of 1932) following his retirement from politics in 1970. Two professors from the Department of Political Science, Dr. Norman L. Parks and Dr. David Grubbs, were instrumental in persuading Gore to donate his papers to his alma mater. The papers first found a home with Dr. Jim Neal of the History Department, who started the archiving process. In 1992, the papers moved to the Learning Resources Center (LRC), where the Albert Gore Research Center began opening its doors to the public in February 1993 under the leadership of Dr. Neal as the first director. During this time, the Gore Center began expanding its collections to include university and regional history. Space and storage issues pushed the Gore Center out of the Learning Resources Center and into the newly renovated Andrew L. Todd Hall in the spring of 2005. Dr. Lisa Pruitt, the director after Dr. Neal retired in 1999, oversaw the move to the new space.

Since moving to Todd Hall, the Gore Center’s collections and outreach initiatives have grown richer and more expansive. Our oral history collections greatly increased over the years, and we currently preserve thousands of audio files that cover stories of Tennesseans from all walks of life. Betty Rowland, former Gore Center secretary, was a crucial figure in collecting oral histories for the Middle Tennessee Oral History Project. She conducted over 200 interviews between the years 2000 and 2004. In 2003, Don and Sheryl Jones donated some of the oldest-known photographs of Murfreesboro. These photographs are dated between 1865 and 1870, and show vestiges of the Union encampment on the town’s Public Square.


Union encampment on Murfreesboro square, ca. 1860s. Don and Sheryl Jones Photograph Collection.

The third Gore Center director, Dr. Jim Williams, called 2010 a “transformative year” for our archive for a number of a reasons. Additional compact shelving units were added to the storage area, which came in handy when U.S. Representative Bart Gordon donated his congressional papers to the Gore Center following his retirement from politics. In total, we received over 600 cartons of papers and an electronic database from Gordon. That same year, we acquired another large donation to our collections, this one specifically for the Margaret Lindsley Warden Library for Equine Studies. Joan Hunt donated over 900 books and 5,500 magazines. Today, the Library for Equine Studies is housed in the Special Collections at James E. Walker Library. Lastly, in 2010, the Gore Center participated in the planning for MTSU’s Centennial Celebration that occurred the following year.

Perhaps the most important event that happened around this time was the hiring of Donna Baker, MTSU’s first University Archivist. She has been an instrumental figure in collecting and preserving MTSU’s history, and her knowledge and leadership has been vital to the Gore Center’s daily operations and public history training. Donna trained me as a graduate student from 2014 to 2016, and I am eternally grateful for her mentorship in these early years of my professional career.


An undergraduate history class discusses what they have found in some of the Gore Center’s archival documents.

Since 2014, the Gore Center has continued its dedication to providing the public and MTSU students with access to our many political, regional, university, and oral history collections. We have opened up our doors to classes across MTSU’s campus for hands-on primary source learning, and we have taken the archives into the classrooms of local Murfreesboro public schools. Our graduate assistants have developed countless physical and online exhibits using our collections. We also started a partnership with Walker Library to create and manage more digital collections, including the Forrest Hall Protest Collection. We have built relationships with communities and institutions across the state of Tennessee, like Humanities Tennessee and MTSU’s Teaching with Primary Sources. We continue to sponsor public programs such as Congress to Campus, and we have developed successful programs of our own, like the Movement 68 Symposium held in October 2018.


Participants in the Movement 68 Symposium: Honoring 50 Years of Black Student Activism, left to right: Sarah Calise (moderator), André Canty, Arionna White, Sylvester Brooks, Dr. Michael McDonald, Dr. Phyllis Hickerson-Washington, Dr. Vincent Windrow, Lae’l Hughes-Watkins (keynote speaker), and Barbara Scales (moderator).

We can’t know for sure what kind of exciting adventures await the Albert Gore Research Center and the archives world in the future, but we do know that our archivists and archivists-in-training will be here when you need us–for your next research paper, class assignment, exhibit, documentary, oral history, public program, community project, or even if you are just looking for some cool historical documents and artifacts. We have been honored to serve the Middle Tennessee community for the past 25 years, and we cannot wait to serve the public for 25 more years and beyond!

Visit our website or contact us to start your next project with the Gore Center.

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Archive Spotlight: Charity Circle of Murfreesboro

Written by Marley Abbott, Graduate Assistant

Marley previously created a resource guide on “Women’s Groups, Clubs, and Organizations in Murfreesboro,” which included Charity Circle of Murfreesboro. It is a great document to explore all year long, but especially during Women’s History Month. 

For Women’s History Month, we wanted to put a spotlight on some of our collections related to the important work of women. This week’s spotlight is on the Charity Circle of Murfreesboro. Founded on October 1, 1910 as the “Girl’s Charity Circle” with over 20 original members. Under its first President, Ellen Douglas, dues were agreed upon to be 15 cents per month. From the time of their founding, Charity Circle has worked to serve their community and various progressive efforts as much as possible.

One of their first major projects was the construction of a Mission Church on Thanksgiving Day in 1912, made possible by donated time, money, and materials. Members of the Charity Circle worked to provide Mission Church residents with food, clothing, and various educational lessons to help better their living situation.


Two women and four young children playing on a slide at Charity Circle’s integrated daycare center in 1967. Source: Charity Circle of Murfreesboro Records

In 1967, they opened the Circle Day Care Center at 216 N. Spring St. The Center was incredibly beneficial for working-class parents, as fees and scheduling were tailored to work schedules and financial abilities, and children were provided with food, educational activities, and supervised recreational time with their peers.

Throughout the year, Charity Circle holds numerous fundraising events and parties, including a holiday luncheons, Christmas caroling parties, a “Cupcakes and Cocktails” summer event, and a tailgate party. The Charity Circle’s annual gala, the Ugly Duckling Ball, is their biggest event each year, providing a fun and formal night of socialization and fundraising. All proceeds and donations collected from the event are given back to the community through various charitable efforts that benefit many local organizations.


Six women working on a large papier-mâché duck for an Ugly Duckling Ball, circa 1960. Source: Charity Circle of Murfreesboro Records

The Charity Circle of Murfreesboro is active today, and recently elected their new President, Anne Davis, in February 2019. They have only grown in numbers and continue to expand their community service projects.

For more information, please visit their website, or research the Charity Circle of Murfreesboro Records housed at the Albert Gore Research Center at MTSU.

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