Moore: Remembering Chattanooga's Hawkinsville community

Moore: Remembering Chattanooga's Hawkinsville community

May 20th, 2018 by Gay Moore in Opinion Columns
Butler and Pressie Frazier, on the left, leaders in the resettlement project of Tyner black families, talk with Lewis Johnson in front of his temporary home while students work on the roof.

Butler and Pressie Frazier, on the left, leaders...

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

With World War II looming in the fall of 1941, the United States government purchased 6,200 acres to build a facility for the manufacture and testing of munitions. The resulting Volunteer Ordinance Works, later the Volunteer Arsenal, is now Enterprise South.

Located away from more populated areas of Chattanooga in the rural Tyner district, the property was home to about 300 families and several churches. All were paid for their property but given only 15 days to vacate after notice of the federal purchase.

Among those affected were 11 black families who decided to remain together and rebuild their community elsewhere. Butler and Pressie Frazier purchased a 40-acre tract between Gunbarrel and Jenkins Roads, close to the Silverdale Detention Center. The Fraziers paid $75 per acre, kept 20 acres for their family and sold the remaining 20 acres to the additional 10 families at the same price.

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Using one plow and a mule, men, women and children cleared trees and underbrush for a 40-foot road running from Jenkins to Gunbarrel roads, now Pinewood Road. Working day and night, using lanterns and automobile headlights, the families began clearing their own tracts and building homes. The women joined the men in sawing timber, making mortar and laying stone. The women and children worked during the day, while many of the men who were employed in Chattanooga joined them in the early mornings and evenings. Students from the manual training classes at Booker T. Washington High School joined in the effort. The Fraziers built their garage first and moved into it before beginning their home. Other families also built garages or small barns for temporary shelter.

Ironically, while Frazier and members of the Reuben Smith, Lewis Johnson, McKamey, Lonnie Reed, Talley and Kelley families were building their new community, the Federal Farm Security Administration optioned a 65-acre tract near Jenkins and Igou Gap roads to resettle the black families. This prompted a protest by 250 members of the East Brainerd Civic League, who were "of the opinion that this would be a bad move for both the Negroes and the property owners of the 100 percent white East Brainerd area."

The families knew nothing of the proposal or the opposition until reported in the Chattanooga Times. They quickly rejected the offer, declaring they did not require assistance from outside their community. The group spokeswoman, Pressie Frazier, stated empathically the community wanted "peace and comfort and preferred no invasion of outside workers and projects."

There were several churches on the Volunteer Ordinance site. One was the Hawkinsville Missionary Baptist Church, founded in 1910, in the home of Mary Kelley. By 1920 the group had grown large enough to build a church on land donated by Eaton Hawkins. An African Methodist Episcopal congregation built a separate church. Due to small membership, the two denominations collaborated and met for worship at each other's churches on alternating Sundays.

The Hawkinsville Baptist congregation grew and in 1942 used the money from the sale of the old structure to purchase a plot on Pinewood Road for a new church. (The federal government did not move any of the cemeteries from the Volunteer site.) An AME congregation relocated nearby. Today a number of the founding families' descendants attend Hawkinsville Missionary Baptist.

In 1951, the Min-Tom Home relocated to Hawkinsville. Built on 30 acres of donated land, the home fronted the newly built Min-Tom Road. Founded in 1943 by Mrs. C.M. Deakins, the home for orphaned and neglected black children was originally located in Alton Park. Named for the founder's parents, the Rev. Thomas and Minnie Deakins, the Min-Tom Home had 21 children in residence when it burned in 1951. It was rebuilt and re-opened in 1953.

By the early 1980s, care of neglected children changed substantially, and only a few children remained at the Min-Tom Home. Nashville-based Hospital Corporation of America purchased the property to build a residential alcohol and drug treatment center, Crossroads, for adults and adolescents. When that facility closed in the early 1990s, the property was sold to the Episcopal Diocese of East Tennessee for its existing St. Nicholas School.

The Hawkinsville neighborhood continues to be a vibrant community.

Gay Moore is the author of several books, including "Chattanooga's St. Elmo and Forest Hills Cemetery." The Rev. Dr. Bobby Hampton and Jacqueline Lyons of Hawkinsville Missionary Baptist Church and Dexter Cantelou, formerly of St. Nicholas School, assisted with this article. For more information visit chattahistoricalassocc.org.

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