DeLisa Minor Harris

By Clint Confehr

COLUMBIA, TN — The African American Heritage Society of Maury County is set to hear its featured speaker on Saturday when she will discuss “Black Law for White Order.”

“The collective impact of African American lawyers on Civil Rights legislation in Middle Tennessee from 1865 to Now” is the subtitle of the presentation by DeLisa Minor Harris at the Maury County Archives, 201 E. 6th St., at 10 a.m. July 23.

Harris is the assistant director of the John Hope and Aurelia E. Franklin Library at Fisk University where she’s an adjunct instructor for the W.E.B. Du Bois Honors Program.

She is also the principal investigator for the Melon-funded Portal to Julius Rosenwald Fund Collection at Fisk University. In 1917, when Rosenwald was president of Sears Roebuck, he started a fund to improve the lives of Americans, including the education of young Black people with construction of schools and teachers’ homes in the rural South. By 1932, and with some local funding,  4,977 schools were built and 217 teachers’ homes were built.

A Rosenwald school in Maury County’s Canaan Community was destroyed by fire on July 5, 2020. There were lightning strikes from a local thunderstorm that day. Paco Havard, president of the NAACP Branch here, says, “We thought it was very suspicious, but like others, we said, ‘Let the officials do their job.’”

Sunday, Havard said that he’s unaware of any conclusion to the investigation, but adds, “It’s my understanding that there was no accelerant found.” However, because an animal handler was out sick, an accelerant sniffing K-9 was not used in the investigation, Havard said in 2020 and again now. Meanwhile, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has said there was nothing in-hand to indicate arson, Havard said.

Maury County Historian Jo Ann McClellan, president of the AAHS here, received her earliest formal education at a Rosenwald school in grades 2-8 at the Theta Community of adjoining Williamson County. In 2015, the National Trust for Historic Preservation classified Rosenwald schools as National Treasures.

The AAHS speaker on Saturday is a co-principal investigator for the Fisk Forever Digital Project, a two-year project to preserve and create access to the Fiskiana collection at Fisk, the AAHS of Maury County said in its July newsletter. Harris is also a 2020-22 Rare Book School – Melon Cultural Heritage Fellow.

AAHSMC is a recipient of a Community Outreach Grant from Humanities Tennessee to develop a website and create a traveling exhibit, the AAHSMC’s July Newsletter reports. The exhibit, “Education in Maury County: The African American Experience” will chronicle the struggles and successes of African American education after the Civil War and “through desegregation,” the society reports. Set for completion in November, the exhibit will be made available to churches, libraries and museums at no charge. Organizations with leaders interested in hosting a display may make reservations on-line by selecting the Community Outreach option on the society’s website;  aahsocietymctn.org.