Receiving Our Inheritance: A legendary civil rights organization comes face-to-face with white supremacy--again.

AuthorHenderson, Ash-Lee Woodard


I drove to the office, my home away from home, a place that helped shape me into the organizer I've become, a place where people come together, sometimes across differences, to answer questions about how to save the world: the Highlander Research and Education Center.

As the first black, female executive director of the Highlander Center, a proud Affrilachian (black Appalachian) and Southerner, and a builder of people power, I've inherited many things. The center, now eighty-seven years old, served as a training and meeting ground for civil-rights-era heroes including Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. But many people are now either unaware of our existence or incorrectly assume that Highlander is some sort of living museum where they can become a celebrity movement leader.

We also inherited an organization that has weathered many storms. Sixty years ago, Highlander survived a raid that led to our forced removal from our original home in Grundy County, Tennessee. The raid was orchestrated through a multistate, Tennessee-sanctioned attempt to stop our work of organizing, educating, and building a multiracial, black-led movement to break the back of the Jim Crow South. It led to the theft of our charter and land, but not to the end of our story.

We relocated to Knoxville, Tennessee, where we were attacked by the Ku Klux Klan in 1966 and then forced by urban development and gentrification to move, along with our black neighbors, from our second home. We are now located in New Market, Tennessee, where we've thrived the longest.

What happened on March 29 was a continuation of this history. As reported by the Knoxville News Sentinel and in national media, on the morning our main office building burned, presumably as the result of arson, a symbol associated with the white power...

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