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Photo courtesy of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center

Last summer, reporter and editor Heather Duncan—a frequent contributor to WUOT, the National Public Radio station licensed to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville—proposed an idea to News Director Brandon Hollingsworth for a serious of stories about Knoxville’s predominantly African American downtown communities of Willow Street, Mountain View, and Morningside that were razed between 1959 and 1974 as part of federally funded urban renewal initiatives.

In Knoxville, some 2,500 families, 107 businesses, and 15 churches were displaced in the area now occupied by the Civic Coliseum and parking garage, Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, and the Hotel Knoxville (formerly the Hyatt).

Duncan’s proposal fit in with an ongoing effort by WUOT to tell more stories about Black experience, culture, and history. Director of Donor Relations Jeff Taylor applied for and received a $5,000 grant from the East Tennessee Foundation’s Hope in Action Fund to hire Duncan to interview former residents of the old neighborhoods and produce six four- to seven-minute stories.

“East Tennessee Foundation’s Hope in Action Fund is committed to causes and efforts which seek to dismantle racism and discrimination in our region,” said Mike McClamroch, president and CEO of the East Tennessee Foundation. “We instantly recognized the importance of conveying, transparently and accurately, the story of Black residents impacted by urban renewal. Our grant to WUOT in support of their oral history project is a great opportunity to set the story straight and for us, as a community, to learn and make better decisions in the future.”

When Duncan’s reporting begins airing later this spring, WUOT will donate copies of the original interviews to the Beck Cultural Exchange Center for inclusion in the center’s oral history collection. They will be the first new recordings about urban renewal to be added to the center’s audio collection since 1976.

“This grant will allow us to delve deeper into stories we have not traditionally told at WUOT,” said Hollingsworth, “and at the same time add to the valuable collection at the Beck Center. We are thrilled to be able to provide this resource of information East Tennessee’s primary repository of Black history and culture.”


Brooks Clark (865-310-1277,