Carving Out Communities: Black Institution Building in Rutherford County, Tennessee 1860-1890

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Lodl, John H.
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Middle Tennessee State University
"Carving Out Communities: Black Institution Building in Rutherford County, Tennessee 1860-1890" explores a still neglected topic in public history and historic preservation: the significance of space in considering the significance of Black churches in community formation and institution building in the 19th century rural South. Historic preservationists in particular still neglect African American space making and Black institution building when they assess the cultural landscape or consider the significance of where and when Black churches were located. This study focuses on Black churches and cemeteries in Rutherford County, Tennessee. The county seat of Murfreesboro once briefly served as the state capital in the 1820s; during the Civil War, the U.S. Army occupied the county at two different times, and created a major military base in the county by 1863, after the Battle of Stones River had devastated adjacent farms and plantations. Using documentary evidence and the substantial material culture evidence left behind by the congregations as they formed and built their churches, the study investigates how Reconstruction-era Black congregations acquired land and created sacred safe havens within an increasingly hostile social and political environment of white supremacy, racial atrocity, and political disenfranchisement. The acquisition of space and construction of Black institutions were key points of resistance and allowed Black groups and neighborhoods to carve their own identity and protect their own community within a racially contested landscape.
History, African American studies, Religious history