Bessie Smith Cultural Center To Honor 3 Chattanooga Trailblazers At 30th Anniversary Luncheon

Thursday, January 09, 2014

The Bessie Smith Cultural Center will honor three community leaders at their 30th Anniversary Luncheon on Tuesday, Feb. 4, at 11:30 a.m. the DoubleTree Hotel in downtown Chattanooga. Judy Smith, co-executive producer of ABC’s political thriller series, Scandal, and president of crisis communications firm, Smith & Company, will serve as the keynote speaker.

The Chattanooga pioneers who will be saluted and honored at the luncheon include: Ruth Holmberg, Rayburn Traughber and Edna Varner. Each leader has made contributions to enrich the African American culture of the Greater Chattanooga Area. The honorees have also played pivotal roles in building relationships, creating a positive sense of community and made significant contributions in education, said officials.

“It is with great pleasure that we celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Bessie Smith Cultural Center by paying tribute to three extraordinary leaders who have accomplished so much for our community," said Rose Martin, president of the Bessie Smith Cultural Center. “We encourage the community to attend the luncheon to help us celebrate the accomplishments, achievements, and selfless acts of service made by Ruth Holmberg, Rayburn Traughber, and Edna Varner.”

Tables are currently available for purchase along with a limited number of tickets for general seating. To purchase tickets, tables and to learn more about corporate sponsorships – including an exclusive meet-and-greet with Ms. Smith, call 266-8658 or visit www.bessiesmithcc.org.

ABOUT THE HONOREES
Ruth Holmberg

The granddaughter of Adolph Ochs, Ms. Holmberg moved to Chattanooga in 1946 and rose to a leadership role at the Chattanooga Times, which was still owned by the Ochs family. She was the publisher of the Chattanooga Times from 1964-1992 and chaired The Times Printing Company from 1992-1999.

Under her leadership, the Chattanooga Times became a leading voice for civil rights -- becoming one of the only newspapers in the South to editorially support the Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. 

In Chattanooga and in Tennessee, Ms. Holmberg has been a leader in civil rights, the arts, Downtown revitalization and education. She has served on the boards -- often in leadership roles -- of the Tennessee Arts Commission, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, the Hunter Museum of American Art, the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera Association, the Public Education Foundation, the River City Company, the Chamber of Commerce and many other leading civic and not-for-profit organizations. 

At the national level, Ms. Holmberg has been a leader on education and arts issues as a member of the Board of the Public Education Network and former member of the Board of the Smithsonian Institution. She served as a member of the Board of Directors of the Associated Press, the New York Times Company and was president of the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association. 

Rayburn A. Traughber

Rayburn Traughber is one of the chartered Board of Directors of the Chattanooga African American Museum – presently the Bessie Smith Cultural Center. 

His basic philosophy was one of insuring that citizens had access to governmental services in a fair and equal manner. Rayburn had the desire to enhance the strengths of the minority community, and embarked upon a career of increasing minority voter participation, economic development, and neighborhood improvements. 

Mr. Traughber was a product of the Chattanooga public school system, receiving his high school diploma from Riverside High School. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Kentucky State University, and a master’s degree from Fisk University. 

He served in various community and public sector leadership roles for over forty years. He held positions with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, city of Chattanooga, State of Tennessee, Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise, and Chattanooga Community Housing Development Organization. One very notable accomplishment was becoming the first African American to be appointed as Tennessee’s Commissioner of Employment Security.

Edna Varner

Edna Varner is a UTC graduate  (Masters +45) and former Hamilton County teacher and principal, currently working with the Public Education Foundation on two projects resulting from collaborations with the Hamilton County Department of Education and community partners.  She taught middle and high school, was assistant principal of Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences, and principal of Chattanooga Middle School and Howard School of Academics and Technology.    After retirement she worked for 11 years as a Director of Leadership and Assessment for the New York based Cornerstone Literacy, Inc. a funder of literacy initiatives across the United States.  

Following in the footsteps of parents devoted to community service, Ms. Varner’s present and recent board service includes the Community Foundation (past chair), Chattanooga Women’s Leadership Institute (current chair), Chattanooga Girls’ Leadership Academy/Young Women’s Leadership Academy Foundation, The Aim Center, The Ochs Center, Girls Inc, Ballet Tennessee, Siskin Children’s Institute, Chattanooga State Foundation, and Read 20.   She also serves as a commissioner of the Chattanooga Housing Authority, a member of the Thrive 2055 Regional Planning Committee, and member of The Links, Incorporated, Chattanooga Rotary, and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.   Formerly an award winning teacher, she is a Leadership Chattanooga alumna, a past Chattanooga Woman of Distinction, and two- time recipient of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Woman of the Year.  Her greatest recurring award is seeing former students as leaders in our community. 

HISTORY OF THE BESSIE SMITH CULTURAL CENTER

The journey of the Bessie Smith Cultural Center started in 1983 when three leaders, Jacola Ruth Goodwin, Roy C. Noel, and Leonard E. Washington, Sr., led the charge to preserve local African American history and artifacts and created the Chattanooga African American Museum. 

Located in an area once dubbed as the city’s black enterprise zone, (the historic 9th Street District), the museum’s original goal was to preserve the many contributions African Americans made to the development of Chattanooga and to engage the entire community with an universal appreciation of African American culture. The rise in the number of African American Museums during the 1960s paralleled the growth in African American studies throughout the nation. Both visions were attempts to compensate for the failure of the American educational system to provide adequate inclusion and contributions of African Americans in American history and culture. In 1996, a newly renovated facility, located at 200 E. Martin Luther King Boulevard, became the new home of the Chattanooga African American Museum and the Bessie Smith Hall. In 2009, the Chattanooga African American Museum/Bessie Smith Performance Hall was renamed the Bessie Smith Cultural Center.

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