NASHVILLE, TN — At the turn of the 20th Century, Tennessee remained the only state supporting legal segregation without a public college for African Americans. In 1907, with the news that Tennessee legislators planned to authorize publicly supported normal schools, several of Nashville’s African-American leaders demanded the inclusion of a school for blacks.
In 1909, The General Assembly authorized a normal school in each grand division and another school for the state. Local leaders including Preston Taylor, Benjamin Carr, Henry Allen Boyd, James C. Napier, T. Clay Moore, and W. S. Ellington formed the Colored Agricultural and Industrial Normal Association. They launched a campaign to locate the school in Davidson County and lobbied the General Assembly, the Davidson County government, and the governor. The Coalition solicited over $80,000 including funds from a door-to-door campaign in African American neighborhoods.
In January 1911, the State Board of Education decided to locate Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State Normal School for Negroes in Davidson County, and on June 19, 1912, Tennessee A&I State Normal School opened its doors to provide African Americans the opportunity to get an education. Over the last 110 years, Tennessee State University has upheld its mission to transform lives and prepare a diverse population of leaders.
Criminal Court Clerk, Howard Gentry, is one of those leaders. He holds a bachelor of science degree and master’s degree in education from Tennessee State University and has made invaluable contributions to the city of Nashville having been elected several times to countywide public office. He was elected as a Metro Council member-at-large and went on to serve two terms as Metro Nashville-Davidson County’s first African American vice mayor before serving as the Criminal Court Clerk.
“I have, literally, been connected to Tennessee State University my entire life, and TSU is responsible for the person I am today,” said Gentry. “I saw the impact my father and mother made at the institution and in the community and I knew that I wanted to have that same type of impact in the community.”
His father, Howard C. Gentry, Sr., the son of an ex-slave, valued the importance of hard work and a good education. He is known as a legend for his exemplary commitment to civic and community activities. He served as the assistant coach and head coach for TSU’s football team from 1949 – 1954, and athletic director for the University from 1955 – 1960. Under his leadership, the athletic program at TSU flourished. His wife, Carrie Gentry, a Civil Rights activist and local Democratic Party trailblazer was also a faculty member at TSU. She taught dance and was the director of the majorettes.
In 1980, the Gentry Complex, a multi-purpose facility on TSU’s main campus that houses the University’s Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation and also contains an arena, dance studio, indoor track, Olympic swimming pool, racquetball courts, and the training and weight room, opened and was named for Howard C. Gentry, Sr. Their legacy at TSU will live on forever.
“Getting into politics and government wasn’t always my plan but the foundation of lifelong learning and public service I received at TSU allowed me to build, grow, and serve. Being an elected official can often be a tireless and thankless job. That’s why it is so important to elect the right people, to the right positions, at the right time,” continued Gentry. “Jerry Maynard has been fighting for economic and social justice in Nashville for the last 20 years. He knows that getting elected is not a measurable outcome of political success but rather it is improving the lives of your constituents.”
The Maynard for Senate campaign has also garnered the strong support of other TSU alumni.
“Jerry has worked diligently to help advance President Glover’s vision and the mission of TSU. I am supporting him for State Senator because I have no doubt that Jerry’s unrelenting commitment to the citizens of Nashville, along with his purposeful advocacy and extensive political institutional knowledge would be of the utmost benefit to all HBCU’s in Nashville,” said Grant L. Winrow, TSU Alumnus and Assistant Dean/Special Assistant to the President.
Last year, Jerry coordinated the inaugural Shirley Ann Coates Student Government Association (SGA) Scholarship Fund with a total endowment of $50,000 designated to provide direct assistance to students with financial hardships. The scholarship is named in honor of his mother, the late Shirley Ann Coates, who was known for her social and community activism, as well as being a champion for women’s rights. “I knew I wanted to do something to honor my mother. I wanted it to be something meaningful. I wanted it to speak to her legacy,” said Jerry.
Frank Stevenson, TSU Associate Vice President shared, “Jerry has worked with President Glover and the University’s leadership team to raise more than $200,000 in scholarships for students, secured $350,000 for the John Merritt Classic, and helped TSU students obtain internships and create career placement opportunities with local and national corporations.” Stevenson added, “I’ve worked with many community leaders, faith leaders, politicians, and business leaders, and I can tell you that Jerry is the real deal. He has fought for our community as an attorney, politician, and pastor. Jerry is an advocate for progress, a defender of justice, and will face all obstacles and exhaust all ends to get the job done. That is what I want in my next State Senator. A vote for Jerry Maynard is a vote to get the job done.”