published Saturday, February 23rd, 2013

Plaque for Chattanooga's sit-in students to be unveiled

A black trash bag covers a plaque in Miller Plaza along Market Street on Friday in Chattanooga. The plaque will be unveiled to comemorate a 1960s civil rights movement sit-ins by Howard High School students at the S.H. Kress & Company store on Market Street.
A black trash bag covers a plaque in Miller Plaza along Market Street on Friday in Chattanooga. The plaque will be unveiled to comemorate a 1960s civil rights movement sit-ins by Howard High School students at the S.H. Kress & Company store on Market Street.
Photo by Doug Strickland.

IF YOU GO

A bronze plaque honoring Howard School students who participated in sit-ins in February 1960 will be unveiled today at 11 a.m. at M.L. King Boulevard and Market Street. A parade will follow at 2 p.m.

Dorothy Scruggs doesn't know much about her younger brother's arrest 53 years ago. Until Friday, she didn't even know it happened.

Scruggs graduated from Howard High in 1957, moved to Nashville with her husband and lost touch with her old community.

So she didn't know the NAACP bailed Novell Horton out of jail after a February 1960 sit-in, or that some consider that sit-in a turning point in the city's racial history, or that a sit-in happened in the first place. But she does know this: When the Alton Park Development Corp. unveils a plaque at 11 this morning honoring Horton, who died in 2008, and 14 other Howard High students arrested that day, Novell's first name won't be spelled correctly.

"Norvell Horton," the plaque reads in gold letters. People were always pronouncing his name wrong, Scruggs remembers. No harm done, though. Even his momma called him that.

"If you have a Norvell Horton listed," she said, "that must be him."

Said Dr. Elenora Woods, who ordered the 18-inch-by-22-inch sign from the International Bronze Plaque Co. of New York: "If there's things misspelled, it's not my fault. I took it straight from the NAACP file."

Woods was born five years after the sit-ins and was raised in the city's Westside projects, but until recently she didn't know about them either. The event has been swept under the rug for a lot of people around town, she said. So when she and the development corporation's outreach coordinator, Sharon Dragg, decided in November to hold an event for Black History Month, they wanted to commemorate the sit-ins. They hope it will teach younger generations how far blacks in Chattanooga have come.

The plaque will be unveiled at 11 a.m. at M.L. King Boulevard and Market Street, near where the sit-ins unfolded inside the S&H Kress & Co.'s "five and dime" store.

A parade will follow at 2 p.m.

The event required about $10,000, Woods said, and it was paid for through private donations.

Several other Howard alumni who took part in the sit-ins but weren't arrested also will be there, like state Rep. JoAnne Favors. Favors was not part of the first sit-in that took place on a Friday in February, but she remembers a fervor growing among her classmates as the protests continued the next week.

She showed up with about 300 other students, some of them stuffing inside restaurants, others packing the streets and parking lots. In the 53 years since, she has talked with several other Howard alumni about that week, wondering if people one day would forget.

They needed something to mark the occasion, she has thought over the years.

"It's long overdue," Favors said.

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