Pulaski resident John Finch Nelson, left, and Mayor Pat Ford take a moment to recreate their spontaneous handshake shortly after the board of mayor and aldermen unanimously voted to honor the late J.R. McClure, an acclaimed announcer for Bridgeforth High School football games. Photo by Clint Confehr

By Clint Confehr

PULASKI, TN — The Board of Mayor and Aldermen has unanimously voted to grant a petitioner’s request for a plaque honoring the Blue Devils’ football team and its announcer.

Bridgeforth High School was the school for Blacks in Giles County from 1937 until integration in 1965. The board’s petitioner, John Finch Nelson of Pulaski, says those words should be on the plaque.

The mayor and aldermen agreed on Sept. 22.

Joe Rivers McClure was the announcer for all of the Blue Devils’ games at their home stadium named after Sam Davis, a Confederate soldier.

McClure was credited by George Martin of WKSR AM, Pulaski, as a consistent attraction “by making the games exciting and interesting, regardless of the score,” the plaque is to state.

Nelson’s petition, supported by 120 people in its original form as submitted Aug. 12, was motivated by a board vote this past summer to name a press box announcer’s booth after a former Giles County High School football announcer, the late Bill Holt. Equality was sought for McClure.

“During the ensuing month,” Nelson wrote to the mayor and aldermen on Sept. 17, “you have held several official meetings involving this [original] petition at which time you and the public have expressed varying opinions. There seems to be a consistent opinion from  you that Mr. McClure is deserving of appropriate recognition and honor, however, separate from the announcer’s booth.

“After consideration of these opinions, and in recognition that Bridgeforth High School Blue Devils football team played all of its home games there in Sam Davis Park,” Nelson wrote, “we are amending our petition.

“Accordingly,” Nelson continued, “we request that a historical marker be erected in the vicinity of the public entrance which both recognizes this park as the home stadium of the Blue Devils and, also, Mr. McClure who served as the well-acclaimed announcer.”

Nelson attached a drawing of the proposed plaque to his letter which was provided to the city’s elected leaders on the Friday before the regular board meeting at noon on the fourth Tuesday of the month.

City Attorney Andy Hoover, the board’s parliamentarian, Nelson noted, advised the mayor and aldermen during their non-voting session on Sept. 14 that there would be a vote at the Sept. 22 meeting on the original petition or an amended request. Therefore, Nelson wrote to the board, “[W]e request that his assurance be honored.”

Support for the original petition was from graduates of Bridgeforth High, and others, as indicated by their names collected from emails. At least one member of the city board noted that a petition doesn’t have to be from more than one person, and furthermore, one person’s request deserved attention. That technical point was one of several matters raised during board discussion on what should be done to honor McClure. Sept. 8, the board voted 6-1 for a delay. Aldermen voting to table the issue said they needed more information and time. Alderman Hardin Franklin voted against delay, saying the board could have decided Sept. 8.

Had the board done so, a plaque with McClure’s name could have been affixed to an announcer’s booth door.

On Sept. 11, during the Giles County High School football game with Columbia Central High School, the public address announcer’s booth at the city park was officially dedicated in memory of and to honor the late Bill Holt, the Pulaski Citizen newspaper has reported. Present for the unveiling of the plaque were Holt’s daughter, Beth Beech, and Holt’s sister, Donna Millican, the newspaper photo shows.

City board discussion revealed that Beech filed the request to have an announcer’s booth named for her father. On the other side of a wall for the room where the board meets is a display of plaques naming city employees who served Pulaski for 25 years. Each of those individuals’ plaques are of the same style as Holt’s plaque. The city employees’ plaques seem to be of similar size and are clustered around a larger plaque explaining the significance of the display.

The first petition sought equal treatment for McClure.

“It is the long-held feeling of the Black citizens of Giles County and [Bridgeforth High] alumni … that the beloved and revered Mr. J.R. McClure, who … was the only voice for the Bridgeforth Blue Devil Football Team, has never been recognized as one of the football ‘giants’ in announcing games…” according to the original petition.

Born in 1921 at Pulaski, McClure graduated with honors from Tennessee A&I State College (now Tennessee State University), fought in World War II, and returned home to start his 42-year career in education.

A great deal of discussion was heard during public meetings of the city board about how two announcers might be honored. Mayor Pat Ford regularly calls for comments from the public. There was no public comment during a public hearing required before the board could vote on reclassification of how land at Gordon Lane could be used.

Also during the meeting, the board unanimously voted to:

  • Advertise a call for bids on landscaping downtown. The current landscaper’s contract includes an option for renewal, but city administrator Terry Harrison indicated his preference to obtain another bid.
  • Accepted a Rural Development Community Facility Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the purpose of buying a tractor for the Parks Department, and;
  • Authorized parade permits for: the Giles County High School homecoming on Oct. 2; Life Choice Pregnancy on Oct. 4; the Giles Chamber on Oct. 23; and Giles County veterans on Nov. 11.

The next regular session of the Pulaski board was set to be at 4:30 p.m., on Monday, Oct. 5. It’s a non-voting “work session” for discussion of what should be decided afternoon eight days later.

Clint Confehr

Clint Confehr — an American journalist since 1972 — first wrote for The Tennessee Tribune in 1999. His news writing and photography in South Central Tennessee and the Nashville Metropolitan Statistical...