published Monday, February 20th, 2012

Black and Cherokee history joined

  • photo
    Shirley Wood Merritt brought some records of the Green’s Chapel Cumberland Presbyterian Church to Sunday’s Charleston/Calhoun/Hiwassee Historical Society meeting at the church.
    Photo by Randall Higgins.
    enlarge photo

CHARLESTON, Tenn. -- The Cherokee Removal didn't sweep up just Native Americans. Black people were taken, too.

About 300 slaves left Charleston on the Trail of Tears along with thousands of Cherokees in 1838.

The Charleston/Calhoun/Hiwassee Historical Society held its February meeting Sunday at one of the historic black churches here, Green's Chapel Cumberland Presbyterian. February is Black History Month.

"Charleston is not just about the Trail of Tears or the Civil War," said historical society board member Connie Hayden.

As the society works toward opening its Hiwassee Heritage Center, members want to know more about all of the river region's history.

This Sunday, the McMinn County Historical Society also will observe Black History Month. Fred Underdown, society president, said the meeting will be held at the courthouse in Athens, Tenn., at 3 p.m.

"One of the Tennessee Wesleyan College professors' father was one of the Red Tail pilots of World War II," Underdown said. He will be the subject of that meeting.

"Red Tail" was a nickname for the Tuskegee Airmen, an aviation group made up of African-Americans that fought in Europe during World War II. The commercial film "Red Tails," a fictionalized account of the group, was released this year by Lucasfilm Ltd.

Shirley Wood Merritt, a lifelong member of Green's Chapel, told the historical society about her church, the first black-owned church in the Charleston area.

"We started at the cemetery," she said, meaning the Charleston Cemetery, which for many years had segregated gravesites.

The church was founded in 1885, just a year after the Cumberland Presbyterian Colored denomination was formed in Nashville. The congregation moved from its cemetery location to its current site when prominent black farmer Luther J. Green donated the land.

The congregation's recent past included Tennessee's first black mayor, Hoyt Berry, and first black police chief, Charles Parker, she said.

Currently, a class at Walker Valley High School is mapping the Charleston Cemetery.

about Randall Higgins...

Randall Higgins covers news in Cleveland, Tenn., for the Times Free Press. He started work with the Chattanooga Times in 1977 and joined the staff of the Chattanooga Times Free Press when the Free Press and Times merged in 1999. Randall has covered Southeast Tennessee, Northwest Georgia and Alabama. He now covers Cleveland and Bradley County and the neighboring region. Randall is a Cleveland native. He has bachelor’s degree from Tennessee Technological University. His awards ...

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