National Park Partners will host a guided tour of African-American historical sites around downtown Chattanooga beginning at 9 a.m. on Wednesday. The walking tour project is part of a “Centennial and Beyond” grant received by National Park Partners from the National Environmental Education Foundation, designed to bring National Park Service programming into underserved communities following the 100th Anniversary of the Park Service in 2016. The Centennial and Beyond grants, made possible by The Kendeda Fund, support projects that build the capacity of organizations such as National Park Partners to engage and steward diverse audiences that are reflective of their park units’ surrounding communities.
The tour will begin at 9 a.m. at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center and proceed through Miller Plaza and along Georgia Avenue, with the final destination being the Walnut Street Bridge and the future site of the Ed Johnson Memorial. Through a donation from Chattanooga Casino Shuttles, participants will receive a complimentary shuttle ride back to the Bessie Smith Cultural Center at the conclusion of the tour.
"The research for this project has uncovered many layers of African-American history in Chattanooga’s downtown, history that is deeply woven into the fabric of our city,” said Tricia Mims, executive director of National Park Partners. “It’s been a challenge to narrow down the multiple stories that could be told into a manageable walking tour program.”
Former history teacher and project researcher Andy Mims will lead the tour, along with Ranger Chris Barr from Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. The tour is expected to last approximately two hours and will be held rain or shine. Participants are encouraged to dress appropriately for the weather, with casual attire and comfortable walking shoes recommended. There is no charge for the event.
National Park Partners is currently looking into producing an online map and a bicycle or driving tour option that would allow exploration of sites that are in the downtown vicinity but not easily included on a walking tour. While the guided tour on Wednesday is the only one of its kind planned at this time, the group is also looking into funding options to make this a recurring event. In the meantime, hard copy maps of the basic tour will be made available at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center by Aug. 31 for anyone wishing to do a self-guided tour.