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Change You Can See: The Highlander Center

Bernice Robinson leads a “Citizenship School” on Johns Island, teaching blacks to read and write so they will be able to vote.

Bernice Robinson leads a “Citizenship School” on Johns Island, teaching blacks to read and write so they will be able to vote.

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  • Myles Horton cofounded the Highlander School with Don West in 1932 and he and his wife, Zilphia, ran the school for decades. Zilphia died in 1956; Myles in 1990. Myles worked with most leaders from the civil rights movement.
  • The Highlander School supported many of the labor movements throughout the South, including this protest by the Congress of Industrial Organizations union, with workers picketing conditions at textile miles in Lumberton, N.C. in 1937.
  • The Highland Center
  • Posing outside the Highlander library in Monteagle for the school’s 25th anniversary in 1957 are, from left to right, Martin Luther King Jr., Pete Seeger, Myles and Zilphia Hortons’ daughter, Charis, Rosa Parks, and Ralph Abernathy. The picture was taken by a “spy” for the reactionary forces against the Civil Rights movement and later used in propaganda against King and Highlander.
  • As resistance to the civil rights movement grew in the 1960s, Highlander and its allies came under attack. Billboards such as this one—showing Martin Luther King Jr. attending a Highlander workshop—were intended to taint both he and the school as “communist” agitators.
  • Eleanor Roosevelt poses with Myles Horton at the school’s 25th anniversary, which she spoke at. The former first lady was an early and long-time financial supporter of the school—which earned her the wrath of conservatives during the McCarthy era.
  • Septima Clark (left), sometimes called the “Grandmother of the American Civil Rights Movement,” worked for a time as the school’s education director. She’s shown here in the late 1950s with Rosa Parks, who was a frequent visitor, and had attended a Highlander workshop before her famous defiant bus protest in Montgomery, Ala.
  • The so-called “Clinton 12” from Clinton, Tenn., were the first black students to attend an all-white high school in the South, in 1956—a year before the more famous Little Rock Nine integrated their school in Arkansas. Highlander supported the Clinton integration effort and invited the students during the Christmas break that year to come and relax in Monteagle. They’re shown here with Rosa Parks.
  • Esau Jenkins lived on Johns Island, S.C., where the ability to read and write was required to vote. In collaboration with Highlander, Jenkins started “Citizenship Schools,” which taught poor, illiterate blacks to read. Here he’s shown talking with Highlander’s founder, Myles Horton (sitting on the desk).
  • Bessie Smith Gayheart (with hands raised) and Madge Ashley (left) stop trucks on a road in Harlan County in the late 1960s or early 1970s in protest of strip mining operations there.
  • Joie Willimetz at Highlander’s nursery school for local kids, when the school was located at Monteagle.
  • Coal miners from Appalachia sit on the steps of the U.S. Capital in the 1960s, protesting for increased federal regulation and oversight of mining operations to protect them from black lung and other health hazards. Congress passed Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act in 1969.
  • Bernice Robinson leads a “Citizenship School” on Johns Island, teaching blacks to read and write so they will be able to vote.
  • Highlander has always promoted the arts as a means for social and cultural change, and many performers of the folk era were frequent visitors to the school. Here, Woody Guthrie (left) plays with Pete Seeger at Highlander in the 1940s. Organizers at Highlander believe that Guthrie only visited the center once, but Seeger stayed involved over the years and still stays in touch.
  • Bluegrass performer Hazel Dickens gave several music workshops at Highlander during the 1980s and ’90s.
  • People protest in downtown Knoxville in April 2006 against the federal Sensenbrenner Bill, which called for several anti-immigration measures, including a fence built along the border with Mexico and the active rounding up and deportation of undocumented workers. The protest was one of hundreds around the United States. Highlander supports Latino activism through several programs that help organize workers and train leaders.

Inside the Highlander Center's photo archive, recording 80 years of social activism.

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