Founding sisterhood of the Ethel Beck Society Photo submitted

By Vivian Shipe

KNOXVILLE, TN — The women who attended the first  Ethel Beck Society Brunch came from all walks of life. Four generations spanning an age range from 17 to 98 years of age. Powerful African American women of Knoxville and surrounding counties of East Tennessee. They were called together for a purpose…on purpose.

Shirley Carr Clowney one of the original Maryville Six Photo by Vivian Shipe

Executive Director of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center, Reverend Renee Kesler,  wanted to create a space where the victories and accomplishments of Black women would be remembered. The Ethel Beck Society was named after the savvy African American business woman, educator and entrepreneur who founded the Knoxville negro orphanage. Mrs. Beck and her husband owned massive amounts of real estate and were  influential leaders in society and the business world in Knoxville in the 1920s thru the 40s. and the cultural center is named after the couple.

In speaking of the accomplishments of Ethel Beck, Rev. Kesler shared the vision of the Society which was that there would always be a place where the accomplishments of Black women would never be forgotten, a place of encouragement and empowerment; where who they were and the impact they had  and would have, would not be hidden away. Kesler told the story of Agnes Sangler, first Black woman to vote in Knoxville about the pain and suffering she endured, as an example of hidden light.

The affair was enlightening and filled with history. Those attending were greeted with a Skype visit by Internationally renowned poet and author, Nikki Giovanni. Ms. Giovanni, born in Knoxville will be appearing in April at a sold out appearance at the Bijou Theatre and spoke words of encouragement to the women in attendance.

The keynote speaker was Mrs. Lois White, the first African American to hold the position of national president of the PTA. Mrs. White shared her story to the different seasons of life in the room by reminding the women  that right now,  they were  either,  finding their way, adhering to the way and to those who had been in the fight the longest, enjoying the way.

Mrs. Lois White, first African American to hold position of National President of the PTA.
(Parent Teacher Association). Photo by Vivian Shipe

The event also honored four published authors from Knoxville who signed copies of their books. Among them was Mrs. Shirley Carr Clowney, one of the original six African American students to integrate Maryville College in 1954.

The catered affair introduced yellow as the color for the society as it symbolizes light and represents the light shining from the contributions of the women in the room. The sponsor of the event was Nikitia Thompson, recognized nationally as one of the top one percent of real estate agents thru her work with Realty Executives

The event closed with reflections and words of wisdom as the leaders and pioneers were told to be intentional, bridge a way for others, be a light, and make them remember you. Young and old gathered contact information from each other to become mentors and advisors for each other.

All bios, history and photos will be gathered from the participants which will become a part of the archives of the Beck, and the next meeting date will be set after the survey information is compiled.

As the women gathered to take their historic portrait, they were reminded to Keep Fighting, Keep Dreaming, Keep Working….