A “Bessie’s Front Porch” video featuring an interview with John L. Edwards III and Valitus Edwards regarding the civil rights work of their late father, the Rev. John Loyd Edwards Jr., was recently released.
Part of an effort by the Bessie Smith Cultural Center to have dialogue regarding race relations, the video features the two sons discussing with Elijah Cameron of the center their father’s work in Chattanooga and their other memories of the 1960s era.
They chronicle how their father came to Chattanooga in 1963 from Nashville to succeed the noted and recently deceased Rev.
C.T. Vivian as pastor of Cosmopolitan Community Church. While in Nashville, the elder Mr. Edwards had been involved in the integration efforts and had been Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s driver when he was in town.
They discuss their father’s work in Chattanooga as a longtime pastor and his efforts successfully leading in the integration of such facilities as Erlanger Hospital, the Hamilton County Nursing Home and the Boone-Hysinger public housing facility.
Valitus Edwards discusses some of the challenges of all that work, saying he came home to the family’s parsonage on Fortwood Street from Tennessee State University one night and the house was firebombed while his mother, Lottie, and special needs younger brother were there.
The two also discuss some of the positive aspects of the push for civil rights, including the fact that Chattanooga for a period had been able to integrate several of its restaurants because some prominent white Chattanoogans invited some of the black leaders to dine with them.
The elder Mr. Edwards, who had come from a pioneering black family in Oklahoma and worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps early in life, was active here as a minister until the age of 90. He died in 2014.
The Bessie Smith Cultural Center has also done a “Bessie’s Front Porch” reading program in connection with WUTC public radio.