BY: ROBERT HAVELKA
Memphis Tennessee Garrison – a civil rights heroine – will potentially be further memorialized with the inclusion of her West Virginia home as a black history museum. Born in 1890, Garrison moved north to West Virginia in the 1950’s where she quickly became a local champion of civil rights by starting a local NAACP chapter, served as national Vice President in the 60’s, and continued to fight for equality until her death in 1988 at the age of 98.
Mrs. Garrison represented the trinity of underprivileged communities – she was an African American woman born in the Appalachian region. Between the region’s abject poverty, being a woman in both a conservative area and time period, and belonging to a historically abused race Memphis Tennessee Garrison overcame a tremendous amount of discrimination. Few can imagine the obstacles standing before her and yet even fewer could imagine accomplishing so much.
One can imagine that some of her internal strength, and patience, came from her background as a schoolteacher. For thirty years, she taught underprivileged children until her retirement in 1952. While teaching she employed herself as a mediator, organizer, and general community advocate. Located in rich coal country, Memphis Tennessee Garrison found herself taking part in the miner’s organizing efforts prior to their official unionization. As the national union organizations began to take hold she found herself increasingly committed to working within the NAACP. In retirement, she continued to advocate on behalf of her community and never stopped her social work up until her death in the late 80’s.
Mrs. Garrison never once left her community for the glamor of the cities she visited in her national service in the NAACP and for that, the community in West Virginia has always remained grateful. Her home has already been declared a historic landmark and is operated by a historic foundation. However, there are some who believe that more should be done to honor her commitment to equality and service throughout her life.
As such, the Carter G. Woodson Memorial Foundation Inc is attempting to convert her former residence in to a black history museum. Already possessing ownership of the house, and having secured historic status, the Foundation seeks to further memorialize Mrs. Garrison by ensuring that her home is the perfect reflection of herself – a center of education for future generations to better secure their own futures and equality. Although there is much work to be done in converting the house into a museum it pales in comparison to the tremendous effort Memphis Tennessee Garrison put forth in her life-long struggle for equality.
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