Chattanooga leaders saw the civil rights era bombings in Birmingham, Ala., and high-pressure water hoses turned on people in Montgomery, Ala., and said such events would not happen here, according to former NAACP President Eddie Holmes.
So when blacks got ready to demand seating in the white section of local theaters, local leaders had already planned with police and the business owners about how blacks would be allowed in without incident, Holmes said.
And for businesses and institutions that still insisted on discrimination, there are several people who challenged them head on and demanded inclusion and equality.
Nine of those people are recognized in the local civil rights documentary "9 United for Equality: Reflections on the Struggle for Civil Rights in Chattanooga."
The film was premiered Monday at the University Center at UTC.
Honorees include the Rev. H.H. Wright, retired pastor of Wesley Chapel Christian Community Church, who was determined to get help for residents of public housing sites that were infested with rats and roaches in the 1980s. He threatened to bring rats and roaches to the city government meetings if housing officials ignored their concerns.
The film honors Rainbow/PUSH Coalition leader Johnny Holloway who was among black leaders demanding accountability in the 1980s when a Ku Klux Klan leader and two other men were arrested for gunning down five women on East Ninth Street.
And the group includes Councilwoman Carol Berz, who marched in the city's first M.L. King Parade in the 1970s before there was a national King holiday.
Other honorees include the city's first black detective Napoleon Williams, the city's first black elected official Johnny Franklin, retired pastor the Rev. Randy Nabors, longtime NAACP leader James Mapp, Holmes, state Rep. JoAnne Favors and John P. Franklin Sr., the city's first black commissioner.
"These nine have gone through the trenches. We sit here because of them," said Nicole Brown, a coordinator at UTC's Office of Equity and Diversity."
Brown and Mike Andrews of UTC co-produced the 35-minute film.
Fighters for equality face opposition daily because of people in positions of power who believe they were born superior, said Holmes. There is still an absenteeism of blacks in management positions. And there's a reason the city has never had a black mayor, he said.
City leaders suppressed violence in Chattanooga during the civil rights movement, but they also suppressed the strength that blacks in other cities gained by demonstrating and organizing, he said. The fact that the city did not explode in the 1960s is part of the reason the city has so many racial equality struggles today, Holmes said.
Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6431.