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KNOXVILLE – The Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, will celebrate the 50th anniversary of “Tent City” — one of the first heroic struggles for voting rights in the rural South — with a Voting Rights Symposium March 31 and April 1.

The symposium, which is free and open to the public, will take place in the auditorium on the second floor of the University Center on the UT campus. Parking is available for a $5 day rate in the University Center parking garage.

From 1959 to 1962, the struggle for voting rights centered on rural Fayette and Haywood counties in Tennessee, where white landowners forced hundreds of African-American sharecroppers off land where many had lived for decades when they tried to register to vote. Community leaders, including Viola and John McFerren, helped to organize a tent city where evicted families were fed and sheltered despite harassment and a trade ban by local white merchants. “Tent City” attracted the attention of the Kennedy administration and drew national media coverage. As a result, “Tent City” sparked the first federal lawsuit brought under the 1957 Civil Rights Act to ensure the right of African-Americans to vote without interference or economic reprisal.

The symposium will feature a variety of speakers, including Sen. Howard Baker Jr.; Viola McFerren, one of the primary African-American community activists involved with “Tent City”; John Doar, the former Department of Justice attorney who represented “Tent City” residents; Laughlin McDonald, director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project; John Seigenthaler, director of the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University; Bill Purcell, former Nashville mayor and director of Harvard’s Institute of Politics; Juan Williams, a journalist with National Public Radio and a Fox News commentator; and many UT faculty, scholars and researchers.

The symposium also will feature the showing of a “Tent City” documentary and “The Long March,” a film produced by UT Knoxville’s College of Communication and Information.
For a full schedule of the two-day symposium, see

As a prelude to the symposium, a photographic exhibit of “Tent City” will be showing at the Bijou Theatre through Saturday; at the Beck Cultural Center, 1927 Dandridge Ave. in Knoxville, March 19-22; at the Baker Center, March 26-30; and at UT’s University Center on March 31.

The Baker Center opened in 2003 with the mission to develop programs and promote research to further the public’s knowledge of our system of governance, and to highlight the critical importance of public service, a hallmark of Sen. Baker’s career. The Baker Center, now located at 1640 Cumberland Ave., houses a museum that tells the story of how government works using Sen. Baker’s life as a backdrop. The center also holds the Modern Political Archives, which include more than 100 collections of political papers from prominent Tennessee leaders including U.S. Sens. Baker, Fred Thompson and Estes Kefauver, former Knoxville Mayor and Polish Ambassador Victor Ashe, and former Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Riley Anderson.



Rita Geier (865-974-0931,