By Clint Confehr
PULASKI, TN — The city board on Tuesday voted 6-1 to delay a decision on how to honor an African American the same way a Caucasian is honored.
Alderman Hardin Franklin voted against delay, saying the Board of Mayor and Aldermen could have decided Sept. 8. Public discussion is to continue at a 4:30 p.m. Sept. 14 work session in City Hall, 203 S. 1st St. A vote is possible at noon Sept. 22.
This summer, the board voted to name one of two announcers’ booths to honor a former Giles County High School football announcer, the late Bill Holt, according to Franklin. No sign was posted for that on Sept. 8.
Aug. 12, John F. Nelson, petition coordinator, submitted a request from 120 people to have McClure honored. They want his name added “to the recently approved name of the football announcers booth,” Nelson said.
McClure is African-American. Holt is Caucasian.
Aldermen voting to table the issue said they needed more information and time. After the meeting, Franklin said when he supported plans to honor Holt, it was to name him on a plaque on the door to the local announcers’ booth. It is Franklin’s contention that the then-proposed resolution was sent to the school system. When the proposal returned to City Hall, it was to name the booth after Holt, Franklin said.
During the meeting, Alderman Ricky Keith said he’d been “a bit confused” on whether Holt was to be honored with a plaque on the announcers’ room door, or whether the room would be named for Holt.
Exactly how and where one or two plaques would be worded and placed was unresolved at the end of the Sept. 8 board meeting.
Holt’s daughter, Beth Beech, told the mayor and aldermen, “Our family desperately wants Mr. McClure to be honored.” She asked that one man’s honor not be diminished when both could be honored.
Also attending was John Birdsong who later said, “I don’t understand why they need more information. To me the petition was pretty clear. They could have voted on it. The work session could be to clear something up.” In a phone call Tuesday night, he recalled adverse effects of integration.
“Mr. McClure announced 19 years. He wasn’t offered anything after integration,” Birdsong said, noting Bridgeforth High School, the then-alleged separate but equal school had an “outstanding principal, but he couldn’t continue as a principal.”
Bridgeforth High was closed as a result of integration in the mid-1960s. Giles County has a Bridgeforth Middle School.
Comments from the public included the fact that the Ku Klux Klan was started in Pulaski. Birdsong said he’d not seen a klansman until after the national discussion started to have a national holiday to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. People react when he tells them he lives in Pulaski; that it’s where the KKK started. He wanted “good news” from the board meeting Tuesday.
John Amlaner, a candidate for an at-large seat on Pulaski’s board, said, “We need to find a way to honor both men.”
The city election is Nov. 3; same as the presidential election.
The board’s intention is to recognize McClure and Holt equally, Alderman Vicky Harwell said.
The petition does request equal treatment for the late Joe Rivers McClure, who is well-remembered as a superior announcer.
“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…” the petition states, noting those sports events’ venue is a city park.
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. As the stadium announcer at Bridgeforth High School football games, McClure was responsible for increased attendance because of his “witty quips” during his play-by-play calls, the petition states.