Tennesseans Respond to the Revolts of 1967

WARNING: Some of the archival documents featured in this post contain racist language and beliefs.

Written by Sarah Calise, Archivist

This week marks 50 years since the black community in Detroit protested police brutality, segregated housing and schools, and rising unemployment in a five-day rebellion from July 23-27. Over 150 similar revolts occurred throughout the year, especially during June and July. Some historians dubbed this time period as “the long, hot summer of 1967.”

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Stokely Carmichael speaks at the IMPACT Symposium at Vanderbilt University on April 8, 1967. Courtesy of The Tennessean.

Earlier that year, in April, Nashville experienced its own revolt. The Nashville Banner and other news outlets were quick to blame the days of unrest on Stokely Carmichael, a leader in the Black Power movement and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Carmichael and other members of the Black Panther Party arrived in Nashville in early April for the IMPACT Symposium held at Vanderbilt University. Following Carmichael’s appearances at colleges and universities throughout Nashville, many black students and members of the black community protested the city’s police brutality and racial discrimination. In an interview, available for viewing in this Vanderbilt University online exhibit, Carmichael discredited The Nashville Banner claim that he and his aides planned the revolts. Instead, Carmichael asserted that the police instigated violence against him and members of the black community. There were a few people, like Vanderbilt student Frank Allen Philpot, who spoke out about how white supremacy and oppression were the real causes of all the uprisings. Read Philpot’s opinion piece on Carmichael below:

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Opinion piece from The Vanderbilt Hustler, April 11, 1967. Courtesy of Vanderbilt’s Jean and Alexander Heard Library.

For several months after IMPACT, the local government and Nashville newspapers continued to accuse Carmichael and Black Power activists of inciting riots across the country. In late July, following deadly revolts in Newark and Detroit, hundreds of Tennesseans from across the state wrote to Senator Albert Gore asking him and his fellow Congressmen to preserve “law and order,” and Gore agreed. He replied to the letters with this statement:

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Below are three representative examples of the kind of letters Gore received from constituents. (Click images to view larger)

Many of the letters directly mentioned Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, and SNCC as reasons for concern. The constituents referred to these individuals and organizations as communists, terrorists, and unworthy recipients of President Johnson’s “Great Society” programs. Most of the Tennesseans who wrote Gore believed black civil rights leaders and activists were at fault for the looting, property damage, and unrest. But that was a racist conclusion. Inequalities in housing and education, rising unemployment, unequal access to health care, police brutality, oppressive structures, and the every day microagressions experienced by all black people in the United States were the causes of the revolts.

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President Lyndon B. Johnson with some members of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Congress and Johnson’s administration went through the bureaucratic process to consider solutions. On July 28, 1967, President Johnson established the eleven-member National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders to investigate the uprisings and to provide recommendations for future action. The commission had to answer three questions: What happened? Why did it happen? And, what can be done to prevent it from happening again?

The commission released their 426-page final report in February of 1968 (it is also known as the Kerner Report)–you can view its summary here via the Eisenhower Foundation. In the report, the commission condemned the uprisings for their violence but recognized that oppression from white people and institutions created such violence. The summary reasoned that “White racism is essentially responsible for the explosive mixture which has been accumulating in our cities since the end of World War II.”

In spring of 1968, Gore received constituent letters about the commission’s report following its nationwide distribution. Below is a letter that made some particularly exceptional points about how the government seemed more focused on suppressing the uprisings rather than addressing the causes:

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In his responses to many of these constituents, Gore stated that he and other Members of Congress were working on legislation to address the underlying issues of “civil disorder.” He underlined his previous support for “most of the five” civil rights bills (he voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964). However, he also stressed that the passage of laws did not and could not necessarily bring about abrupt change in white people and their racist beliefs. Seen in the excerpt below, Gore wrote candidly that “…one cannot legislate brotherly love, human decency or compassion and, frankly, I do not know what the Congress can do about…aspects of so-called white racism emphasized in the Kerner report.”

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By 1970, Gore was out of politics. He lost his seat to Republican Bill Brock, and some historians believe the loss was due to Gore’s anti-Vietnam stance and increasingly progressive support for civil rights legislation.

As we reflect upon the rebellions of 1967 through these archival documents, our nation must consider what has and has not changed over time. Many of the constituent letters to Gore held similar racist beliefs of those today who want to squash protests against police brutality and racial discrimination. What can we learn from these historical documents? How can they improve our understanding of current situations?  In what ways do they inform how we address present and future concerns so that we are not having the same discussions another 50 years from now? Archives don’t preserve old stuff collecting dust. They preserve the ideas, people, and events that shaped our past and brought us to the present. The Gore Center shares these documents with the public to demonstrate how history is a tool for advocacy and enacting change.

We encourage you to share with us in the comments section how archives have helped you in your life! If they haven’t yet, then what can we, as archivists and historians, do better to connect you with the power of historical materials?

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Gore: Patients, Not Politics

Written by Sarah Calise, Archivist

Bumper sticker in support of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, nicknamed “Obamacare,” from the Political Ephemera Collection.

Healthcare legislation seems to always create contentious debate among Members of Congress, the President of the United States, and the American people. During his time in Congress, Albert Gore, Sr. typically supported health care measures that served poor, rural, and elderly communities. His support for the passage of Medicare in 1965, along with his support for an expanded government role in the economy and social programs, placed him firmly in the realm of what some historians call southern liberalism.

Gore, and other southern liberals, believed that the U.S. government had a responsibility to the people to provide adequate health insurance, education, and other programs that guaranteed a good quality of life. Coming from a modest rural background himself, Gore knew firsthand the immense needs of underdeveloped and impoverished communities in Tennessee and similar areas across the South.

In November 1945, President Truman proposed a national health insurance program, partially a reaction to the 5 million men found unfit for military service during World War Two. Representative Gore, greatly moved by Truman’s call to action, dedicated one of his weekly WSM radio broadcasts to the need for national health insurance. In the broadcast, he gave an overview of the proposal and dismissed its opponents, like the American Medical Association, who deemed it “socialized medicine” and played off Americans’ fear of Communism. Gore cited this portion of Truman’s speech that demonstrated how patients and doctors would still have choices:

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Gore mainly focused his broadcast on the unequal distribution of health care that poorer and rural communities faced, as seen in the excerpt below. (Read the full broadcast here.)

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Gore went on to explain his own understandings of how difficult it was for many Tennesseans to access quality medical services and doctors. To strengthen his position, Gore read a letter to his radio listeners about a constituent living in Lafayette, Tennessee, a small town with a population of approximately 1,100 in 1950. In the letter, the constituent discussed his concern about Macon County only having three licensed physicians, all of whom were above the age of 65 and in poor health themselves. He stressed the need for a government-sponsored program to develop hospitals in areas like Macon County. He wrote, “Where is there a section in Tennessee with so large an area and in such plight for medical service?

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Excerpt from a constituent letter to Rep. Albert Gore, Sr. about the lack of proper health care facilities and doctors in Macon County, Tennessee. From the Albert Gore, Sr. House Papers.

This question hit one of the three problems that Gore wanted to “attack vigorously.” He sought to increase the number and distribution of doctors in hospitals, strategically construct more adequate hospital facilities to reach a greater number of people, and bring medical, dental, surgical, and hospital care “within financial reach of everyone.”

In 1946, Congress passed the Hospital Survey and Construction Act (also known as the Hill-Burton Act). The law responded directly to the first of Truman’s five proposals by allocating funds to improve and construct hospitals. Gore fully supported the measure and fought for its success for years. He gave a speech to Congress on April 4, 1950 demanding restoration of the $75 million cut from the bill’s funds. He reiterated how these cuts would affect rural communities struggling to provide vital health care. He stated, “Efficient service to the patient–not politics–should be the ultimate goal of all hospitals, medical training, research and practice, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.”

Did “patients not politics” extend to black people, as well, according to the Hill-Burton Act? Hospitals could not receive funding under the law if they discriminated based on race, color, national origin, or religion. However, “separate but equal” facilities were allowed. Below is a letter from Dr. W.S. Martin, the superintendent of a black hospital in Memphis, asking Gore if they qualified under the law.  In his response, Gore did not outright answer the question about building a new hospital for black patients in Memphis. Instead, he passed the buck to Tennessee’s Department of Health. According to some historians, though, the Hill-Burton Act “materially benefited black southerners as a group more than any other Roosevelt-era program” because it met “the South’s immediate health needs and provided a transitional infrastructure to promote the acceptance of black patients and health professionals into the mainstream health care system until integrationists achieved their goals in the mid-1960s.” [1] (Click the images to view larger.)

 

The Hill-Burton Act was one direct result of Truman’s 1945 five-point proposal. The most ambitious and complete conversion of Truman’s call for a national health insurance program was the Social Security expansion bill introduced by Congressmen Robert Wagner (D-NY), James Murray (D-MT), and John Dingell (D-MI). The bill ultimately died after Republicans regained control of the Senate and the House in 1946. Although Truman failed to pass a national health insurance program during his presidency, Democrats like Gore continued the fight into the 1950s and ’60s.

Stay tuned to our blog and social media accounts for the story on the roles Gore and President Lyndon B. Johnson’s played in the passage of Medicare in 1965.

Works Cited

[1] Thomas, Karen Kruse. “The Hill-Burton Act and Civil Rights: Expanding Hospital Care for Black Southerners, 1939-1960.” The Journal of Southern History 72, no. 4 (2006): 823-870.

 

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How the Greenway Got Its Start

Written by Sally Smith, Intern

With the May 18th announcement of an extension of the Murfreesboro Greenway System toward Barfield Park, it is an appropriate time to reflect on the 1980 environmental statement that would contribute to the construction of Murfreesboro’s thirteen miles of Greenway. Such document is the National Park Service’s 185 page “Final Environmental Statement for General Management Plan and Development Concept Plan for the Stones River National Battlefield and Cemetery,” from March of 1980.

In 1980, Murfreesboro had a population of 32,845 and was developing rapidly, especially near and around the Stones River National Battlefield. This development was concerning for the battlefield because at the time only 351 acres were within its boundaries, which was less than a tenth of the 3,700 acres that defined the Battle of Stones River fought from 1862–1863. The extension of Thompson Lane and Manson Pike was particularly worrisome as it cut through what had historically been the battlefield and brought about a significant increase in residential neighborhoods. In response, the National Parks Service drafted plans for the expansion of Stones River National Battlefield’s boundaries. The plans for the acquisition of historic lands were split into nine proposals as they related to particular acquisitions. The draft plan was to acquire 185 acres through simple fees and 77 acres through easement for an expansion of 262 acres.

 

There is record of legislation authorizing the extension of Stones River National Battlefield going back to 1976, but no legislation regarding the expansion of the battlefield would be passed until over a decade later. On December 23, 1987, A Bill to amend the boundaries of the Stones River National Battlefield, Tennessee, and for other purposes, H.R.1994 (1987) would be signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. Sponsored by Representative Bart Gordon (D-TN-6), H.R. 1994 was the first of five bills he introduced in Congress relating to the boundaries of Stones River National Battlefield. The passage of this bill allowed the Secretary of the Interior to enter an agreement with the City of Murfreesboro to construct and maintain a trail linking the battlefield with Fortress Rosecrans, which is located within Old Fort Park. Another bill, H.R.3881, was signed into law on December 11, 1991. This bill increased the authority of the Secretary of the Interior over the lands adjacent to the Stones River National Battlefield in addition to expanding the boundaries of the Battlefield.

Within the “Final Environmental Statement on the Stones River National Battlefield,” the City of Murfreesboro’s plan to develop a “historic hike and bikeway trail to connect Old Fort Park with the Union Artillery Site,” is elaborated upon. This biking and hiking trail would become a portion of the Murfreesboro’s 13 mile system of Greenways with 11 trailheads, 2 of which are owned by the battlefield. The cooperation between the National Parks Service and the City of Murfreesboro that allowed for the success of The Murfreesboro Greenway Systems would not have been possible without the expansion of the Stones River National Battlefield.

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From the Bart Gordon Papers.

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Courtesy of the Murfreesboro Parks and Recreation Department.

 

Sally Smith is a junior at Central Magnet School, and she is interning with the Albert Gore Research Center this summer. Her career aspiration is to work for the U.S. Department of State.

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Seeing History through the Trees: Celebrate National Arbor Day at MTSU with Walnut Grove

Written by Bradley Harjehausen, Graduate Assistant

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In addition to paper and other products, oxygen, beauty and shade, trees provide a window into history. An example on the campus of MTSU is a group of trees, pictured above, called Walnut Grove that originally had its roots in Mount Vernon. Located between present-day Peck Hall and Cope Administration Building, the walnut trees were the result of Julius H. Bayer, then the university’s custodian of the property, visiting the home of George Washington in 1930. He collected fallen walnuts and subsequently planted them on campus, then known as Middle Tennessee State Teachers College.

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Bayer was far from alone by transplanting Mount Vernon’s history, also including a community in Louisiana in 1932. He, however, is notable in being one of the first educators in the country to implement work-study for students. He paid students to pick fruits and vegetables as well as clean and maintain the dormitories (Sidelines, January 8, 1942). Oral histories discussing Bayer’s influence on the campus can be found on our website and more information about Arbor Day can be found on the Arbor Day Foundation’s website.

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Far Above the Moon, Planet Earth is Blue

Written by Sarah Calise, Archivist

The United Nations observes International Day of Human Space Flight on April 12th, a date that honors the historic beginnings of mankind’s space exploration. Yuri Gagarin, a Soviet pilot, became the first human to fly among the stars when his spacecraft completed an orbit of Earth on April 12, 1961.

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Astronauts Jerry Ross and James Newman work together to connect the Unity module to the Russian Zarya module. This marked the beginning of assembling the ISS. Image courtesy of NASA, 1998.

In 2018, NASA and four other space agencies (Roscosmos, JAXA, ESA, and CSA) will celebrate the 20th anniversary of launching the first component of the International Space Station (ISS) into orbit. Since 1998, Congress has debated funding and support measures for the continuation of human space flight programs. At the center of many of these discussions was former U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon, who was a ranking member and chairman of the House’s Committee on Science and Technology. Using documents from the Bart Gordon Papers and available digital documents from Congress and NASA’s archives, this blog will trace his position on human space flight from 1998 until 2011, when he retired from office.

In 1998, NASA’s budget was split into three appropriation lines: Human Space Flight; Science, Aeronautics and Technology; and Mission Support. The Human Space Flight (HSF) sector contained two major programs, the Space Station and the Space Shuttle, along with the US/Russian Cooperative Program. At this time, HSF accounted for 40% of NASA’s entire budget. The Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics held a hearing on HSF programs in March 1998. In his opening statement, Gordon stressed that the committee worried most about the growth costs and schedule delays caused by Russian economic and political turmoil as well as problems between NASA and contractors. The goal of this hearing, as Gordon put it, was for NASA to “convince this Subcommittee that it understands the problems, that it is prepared to get the Space Station’s costs and schedule under control, and that it is not going to directly or indirectly raid the rest of NASA’s programs to pay for the Space Station.” Budget balancing and U.S. dependence on Russia were two factors that consistently worried Gordon when it came to our nation’s ability to achieve advancements in human space exploration.

In 2001, President George W. Bush’s budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2002 caused major concerns at a NASA Posture hearing. Gordon stated that he was “troubled by the request” because it would cut or eliminate the necessary content to make the International Space Station a productive research facility, thus potentially ruining all previous hard work conducted by NASA engineers, its contractors, and the other space agencies involved in the assembly of the ISS. Additionally, in a memorandum to Democratic members of the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, preparation material for the hearing stated that the Bush administration’s budget plan for the Space Station would “appear to increase U.S. dependence on the Russians as a result of the elimination of funding for the U.S. Propulsion Module and the U.S. Crew Return Vehicle.” Russia’s economic issues had already effected ISS construction delays, so many Democratic Members of Congress, including Gordon, wanted to avoid any greater dependence on the foreign power. Despite this early heated debate on space exploration funding, the Bush administration’s mid-2000s space policy made a significant positive change in presidential support for NASA and human space flight.

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Buzz Aldrin salutes the U.S. flag after landing on the Moon during the Apollo 11 mission. In the late 1990s, Congress and NASA started a new push for another Moon landing and a landing on Mars. Image courtesy of NASA.

Throughout the 2000s, Congress and the Committee on Science focused their attention on the assembly and completion of the ISS, which served as a pertinent first step for exploration beyond low Earth orbit–a goal that earlier administrations nearly squandered. According to scholar John Logsdon, President Richard Nixon’s “Space Doctrine” had long-lasting negative effects on America’s human space flight programs. In his book, After Apollo?: Richard Nixon and the American Space Program (2015), Logsdon explained that the space program under Nixon functioned largely as domestic policy with a decreased budget even though NASA scientists worked toward increasingly ambitious goals. In a 2004 press release, Gordon referred to Nixon’s space policy by stating that the United States “failed to capitalize on Apollo” and “walked away from the infrastructure the nation had built to enable humans to travel beyond low Earth orbit.” From Reagan to Clinton, the U.S. space policy centered mostly on national security interests and saw a decrease in enthusiasm for human space flight.

Following the Space Shuttle Columbia disastervision for space exploration, President George W. Bush announced the Vision for Space Exploration policy in January 2004, which stated four objectives related to “a renewed spirit of discovery.” Just days prior to the announcement of Bush’s space policy, Gordon pushed the president to publicly endorse a commitment to human space exploration “for the long-term” with a detailed plan to travel beyond low Earth orbit that entailed the “eventual attainment” of Mars. Ultimately, the policy sought to implement a sustained and affordable human and robotic program for exploring our solar system; to extend human presence across our solar system, starting with a return to the Moon by 2020, in preparation for a human exploration of Mars; to develop technologies and infrastructures to support decisions about the destinations for human exploration; and to promote international and commercial participation to further U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests. The plan also suggested the completion of the ISS and retirement of the Space Shuttle by 2010.

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The U.S. Vision for Space Exploration long-term goals and cost projections. Committee on Science, Bart Gordon Papers, Albert Gore Research Center.

Gordon had positive remarks for Bush’s space policy and its potential for bipartisan support in an opening statement he gave on February 12, 2004. He said that the specific long-term goals for human space flight presented in the Vision for Space Exploration plan was “something that Members on both sides of the aisle have been urging for some time.” Indeed, the passage of the NASA Authorization Act of 2005 was a bipartisan effort. Still, Gordon underscored the need to attain these goals while keeping in mind a balanced budget. “After further review Congress and the American people may conclude that NASA’s plans for implementing the President’s goals are unrealistic or unaffordable or both,” but if that was the case then Gordon believed the government would be able to craft a plan that was “workable and sustainable.” While Gordon highly supported human space flight, he also did not want NASA’s other missions and scientific programs “cannibalized” to cover the cost of these exploration initiatives.

Bush’s space policy resulted in the creation of the Constellation Program, which was a manned space flight program developed by NASA in order to complete the ISS and return to the Moon no later than 2020. Building replacement vehicles and rockets for NASA’s aging space shuttles was the main objective of this program and had an estimated a cost of $230 billion through 2025. During the administration of President Barack Obama, the Constellation Program ended due to reports of funding issues, engineering challenges, and nonviable goals. The Augustine Committee released a report that concluded the U.S. human space flight program was on an “unsustainable trajectory.” This report influenced Obama’s decision to end the Constellation Program and halt any plans to return to the Moon in the immediate future. Instead, the President switched to a more aggressive plan that projected a manned mission to an asteroid by 2025 and a crewed orbital mission to Mars by the mid-2030s. Obama presented his space policy at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on April 15, 2010 (see video below).

Obama’s space policy relied more on the commercial space industry for getting astronauts into orbit, which Gordon (chair of the Committee on Science at this time) thought was a risky move. Not only did the administration reject five years worth of planning and achievements from the Constellation Program, but it also turned to commercial crew services with “little-to-no track record developing space systems” and caused the U.S. to rely on Russian and Japanese spacecrafts until privately-built vehicles become available.

It was a great struggle for Gordon to maintain bipartisanship and compromise while trying to pass the NASA Authorization Act of 2010. During the bill mark-up, Gordon echoed his statements from 2004-2005 about creating a balanced, sustainable human space flight program in light of economic hardships. The bill that eventually passed the Senate salvaged some of the progress made under the Constellation Program by ensuring NASA utilized existing contracts and investments in the Orion I spacecraft and the Ares I rocket. It also authorized some funding for commercial space flight companies, although at a much lower number than what Obama initially requested.

lantern-press-mars-or-bust-2032Overall, Gordon was a major supporter of NASA’s Human Space Flight program throughout his time in office. He often helped accomplish bipartisan legislation for the expansion of manned missions beyond low Earth orbit that also accounted for budgetary and safety concerns. His efforts with the Committee on Science were part of the country’s transition into a new era of human space exploration that previous administrations severely hindered during the twentieth century. The latest authorization bill signed by President Donald Trump continues plans for deep space exploration and requires a detailed road map for a human mission to Mars. Perhaps one day in our lifetime “The Martian” will be more than just a Hollywood film.

Note: former Project Archivist, Evan Spencer, previously wrote a blog on the New Horizons mission using the Bart Gordon Papers. Read it here.

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The WAVES are Rolling In

Written by Molly O’Rourke, Intern

Elinor Hardy Johnson Folk was born just outside of Los Angeles, California on April 9th, 1917.  She graduated from Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles on February 1st, 1935, and started working for Employers’ Liability Assurance Corporation in May, 1936. I know this because here at the Albert Gore Research Center on the Middle Tennessee State University campus, we have Elinor’s oral history, which was recorded in 2002 by Betty Rowland. The Albert Gore Research Center also has digital copies of Elinor’s letters to her mother and sister, Polly, from December 13, 1942, until December 4, 1944.

Elinor remembers what she was doing when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.  She was laying in her backyard,sunbathing. In December in Los Angeles, you can do that.  She remembers the attack  being of great interest to her because she had saved enough money from working to vacation in Honolulu in 1938.  After the attack, she recalls living in fear.  Fear they(on the west coast) were going to be attacked.  They had blackouts, all night long, and couldn’t return to work in the morning until the blackouts were lifted. Elinor remembers the unfair and unfortunate events of her Japanese friends from high school being sent to concentration camps.

If you’re wondering why I’m sharing this with you, it’s because Elinor also remembers her decision to join the  Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, better known as WAVES.  WAVES was a program created by the U.S. Navy in August of 1942 in response to the need for additional military personnel during WWII.  Elinor was among the first women to join the U.S Navy.

Elinor was riding a street car home on a Saturday afternoon from work and flipped opened a magazine, and an article about the WAVES caught her eye.  The article included some sketches of the WAVE uniforms.  “This was something absolutely new…I just suddenly thought, ‘Well, I think I’ll do that’…I just needed something to–I just wanted to get away and this terrific spirit of patriotism that we all felt,” described Elinor of that day.

On December 13, 1942, Elinor boarded a train at California’s Union Station in Los Angeles and headed to Cedar Falls, Iowa, where she attended boot camp at Iowa State Teachers’ College.  You can read all about her train ride and experiences at boot camp in her letters home,  including her first experience with snow!

After completing boot camp, Elinor went to Atlanta, Georgia to complete her training as a

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Courtesy of the Albert Gore Research Center, Middle Tennessee Oral Histories, Elinor Folk  

Link Trainer Operator. In a letter dated February 1, 1943, she describes a Link Trainer as a, “small airplane (cost $10,000 each) we get inside-put a hood over us and start flying.  Of course we’re attached to the ground so we wont take off.  The cockpit is just like a regular airplane with instruments, rudder pedal and a stick and everything.”  She graduated on March 27, 1943, and described it as , “the most thrilling day of my life!”

 

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Courtesy of the Albert Gore Research Center, Middle Tennessee Oral Histories, Elinor Folk

 

From Atlanta, Elinor flew to the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida where she was stationed until August 1st, when she was transferred to Whiting Field in Milton, Florida.  She describes Whiting Field in her August 5th, 1943 letter as a, “masterpiece of disorganization”, “no hot water until October” and “one hundred girls all using one ironing board”.

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Courtesy of the Albert Gore Research Center, Middle Tennessee Oral Histories, Elinor Folk

The terrain was also much different from the Pensacola Naval base, “Wait till I tell you about the mud and dust.  It rains everyday leaving nothing but thick gooey mud to walk around in.  There are not streets, and sidewalks are unheard of. You sink in mud to your ankles-but at least they don’t expect us to keep our shoes shined.”

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Courtesy of the Albert Gore Research Center, Middle Tennessee Oral Histories, Elinor Folk

        Elinor was a Link Trainer Operator at Whiting field until she was sent to the Naval Air Station in Seattle, Washington on April 9, 1944. In her oral history and letters home Elinor talks about her tasks as a Link Trainer Operator and spending time at the different naval bases. Elinor shared delightful photos to go along with her stories and letters, which are available to view here at the Albert Gore Research Center.

 

 

Pictured above (clockwise from left) 1. Elinor talking to sailors on what they called a “crab”. 2. Elinor getting ready to fly in a plane with a sailor. The WAVES received extra pay for spending four hours a month in the air.  3. Elinor giving instructions to a sailor in a link trainer. Pictured below (clockwise from left) 1. Sailors in line for the lunch. 2. The food served in the mess hall, “We had beans a lot”, Elinor said. 3. Sailors enjoying lunch.

What’s also fascinating about Elinor’s oral history and letters is her stories about social life, dances and dating.  In her letter’s she writes about the movies she was attending at the theatre and the books she was reading.  In a letter with no date, but sometime before August 5, 1943, Elinor finally addresses the “Chief” she had been mentioning in many of her previous letters.  She writes, “Maybe you’d like to know a little more about the chief-and why I think he’s so interesting.  He is by far the most brilliant man I have ever known – or hope to know.” She goes on to write, “We have definitely decided that we are not in love-but we do enjoy each other’s company so much.” To find out what else Elinor had to say about the “Chief”, you’ll have to visit the research center and find out!  Elinor Hardy Johnson and Reau “Gillie” Ester Folk (the “Chief”) were married in Seattle, Washington on June 12, 1944.

 

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Courtesy of Albert Gore Research Center, Middle Tennessee Oral Histories, Elinor Folk

Elinor was honorably discharged from the U.S. Navy on July 19, 1944, and became a permanent resident of Nashville, Tennessee with her husband, a Nashville native, in December of 1945.  Elinor and Gillie adopted two children, and took them to Pensacola on their 25th wedding anniversary.   They all enjoyed dinner at a place called “Bartel’s”, where Elinor and Gillie had their first date. Of the occasion Elinor said, “And we had fried chicken and biscuits and Scuppernong wine.  And that was our celebration for our twenty-fifth anniversary, with the children.  And the jukebox was there and we got up and danced, our children were so embarrassed.”

After her time in the service, Elinor became a storyteller at the Nashville Public Library for several years and  appeared as a storyteller on WPLN the day it went on the air, December 17, 1962.

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Courtesy of The Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame

She was named 1972 SESAC FM Broadcaster of the Year for American Women in Radio and Television (AWRT) and served as a producer/broadcaster until 1995.  Elinor is an active member of The Olde Worlde Theatre Company where she serves on the board. She has performed or narrated in several Olde Worlde Theatre productions including “The Ugly Duckling,” “Casper the Friendly Ghost,” and “Rapunzel” at the Belcourt Theatre. She often joins theatre company directors Richard and Lisa Stein in outreach performances at nursing homes, adult day care centers and schools.

 

 

Elinor’s stories are surprising and fascinating, lovely and inspiring.  Her stories will make you smile, and they are worth a listen, and a read.  To learn more about Elinor Folk and the WAVES, contact University Archivist Donna Baker or Archivist Sarah Calise at the Albert Gore Research Center.

 

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Women’s History Word Search

Can you find all of the Middle Tennessee Women in our new word search?

Middle TN Women WordSearch

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