We went to the grocery store, which was deserted because no one needs groceries the day after Thanksgiving, and I bought a couple of magazines. In fact, my magazines accounted for half of the total cost. Anyway, the good folks at the Smithsonian have put together a list called “The 100 Most Significant Americans of All Time.”
People are always putting out lists like this, and I am always buying them. I look through them and wonder why they pick this person over that one. Then, I wonder how I can use it in this blog. Do I pick out the ones that I like and write about them? Do I pick out the ones I disagree with and write about them?
There are a bunch of Listeria posts on this thing, and I have probably already done all of that. This list is going to be different. In an attempt to change the pattern and pump up my state, I went through the list of “The Most Significant Americans of All Time” and picked out the ones who have a connection to Tennessee. Some of them are obvious, but a few may be surprising.
Meriwether Lewis, along with William Clark, led the Corps of Discovery across the Louisiana Territory and to the Pacific Ocean. Upon their return, Lewis was appointed governor of that territory. Facing stresses of many types, he traveled the Natchez Trace on his way to see Thomas Jefferson. Just south of Nashville, he died of two gunshot wounds in a roadside tavern. Lewis remains buried near Columbia, Tennessee.
Those who have studied the Civil Rights Movement know that Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis. However, they may not know that he received training in activism at the Highlander Folk School in Grundy County, Tennessee. Other activists, including Rosa Parks and Ralph Abernathy, also attended the school.
W.E.B. DuBois founded the NAACP. Before that, he graduated from Fisk University in Nashville. Upon graduation, he taught at the Wheeler School in Wilson County, where I live. According to the The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, his work at the Wheeler School influenced his work, The Souls of Black Folk.
Andrew Jackson was the first president from Tennessee and lived a life that could fill a shelf of books. In fact, my colleague is currently working on his third book about Andrew Jackson. To purchase a book and find out more information about Old Hickory, visit his website at jacksonianamerica.com.
Theodore Roosevelt visited Tennessee while he was in office and spent some time at Jackson’s home, The Hermitage. According to legend, the drank coffee brewed at Nashville’s Maxwell House Hotel and said that it was “good to the last drop.”
Before his presidency, Ulysses S. Grant commanded all Union armies during the Civil War. Before receiving those orders, he commanded troops at the Battle of Fort Henry and the Battle of Shiloh in West Tennessee.
Oprah Winfrey is an icon of television and other forms of entertainment. Before all of that, she graduated from East Nashville High School and Tennessee State University. After winning the Miss Black Tennessee pageant, she was hired as news anchor for Nashville’s WLAC-TV, which is now WTVF.
After a failed robbery attempt in Northfield, Minnesota, Frank and Jesse James needed a place to hide. They chose Nashville. With their families, they lived under aliases and lived quiet lives. Unfortunately, Jesse was not content and wanted to return to outlawry. They returned to Missouri where Jesse was killed.
Elvis Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi but spent most of his life in Memphis. A lot can be written about the life of “The King of Rock n’ Roll,” but, for the purpose of this post, his rise to fame started in Tennessee. It was a fame that took him to the greatest heights and the lowest depths.
I learned a lot about Bob Dylan while researching for my class on the History of American Music. He has been more influential than I ever realized. What connection does he have to Tennessee? Nashville Skyline was recorded here, and he spent time with several legends of country music. According to the stories, the home of Johnny Cash was one of his favorite places to be.
Jimi Hendrix grew up in Seattle and first gained fame in London. He introduced himself Americans at Monterrey and became a legend at Woodstock. However, he learned how to play guitar in Nashville. While in the army, he was stationed at nearby Fort Campbell and spent his weekends playing in the clubs on Jefferson Street. He met and learned from Johnny Jones, a local guitarist. Hard to believe? Watch this video of his first television appearance on a local R n’ B show.
As far as I know, Cornelius Vanderbilt never visited Nashville. However, there is a university in the city that bears his name. One of the school’s founders was married to a distant Vanderbilt cousin and met the Commodore at a time when he was considering several causes in which to donate. The timing was perfect because the meeting led to a $1 million gift.
Babe Ruth and his teammates used to barnstorm during the offseason, and one of those tours took him to Chattanooga. That is when he was struck out by a female pitcher.
13 out of 100. That is not too bad.