Candlelight vigil for the Highlander Center

Robert Houk • Apr 10, 2019 at 12:00 AM

A candlelight march is planned Thursday on the Tweetsie Trail to show support for an iconic East Tennessee institution linked to the birth of the civil rights movement.

An early morning fire March 29 destroyed a building that houses the executive offices of the Highlander Education and Research Center in Jefferson County. The center, located in New Market, has become internationally renowned for its work in social justice and leadership education since is founding more than 86 years ago.

The cause of the fire is still being investigated by local and state authorities.

A statement released last week by the the Highland Center, which hosted civil rights legends such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks in the 1950s, said a “symbol connected to the white power movement” was found spray-painted in the parking lot connected to the main building.

“While we do not know the names of the culprits, we know the white power movement has been increasing and consolidating power across the South, Across the nation and globally,” the center posted on Facebook.

Jason Bembry, a professor of the Old Testament at Emmanuel Christian Seminary at Milligan College, is organizing a vigil to begin 8 p.m. Thursday to show solidarity for the Highland Center, and to call attention to similar fires recently set in Louisiana. Participants will meet at the Happy Valley Elementary School parking and gather on the Tweetsie Trail to walk sixth-tenths of a mile toward Elizabethton before stopping at a marker recognizing Myles Horton, the founder of the Highland Center, and his involvement in organized labor at the local rayon plant in the 1930s.

“There is a real historical connection to the Highland Center here,” Bembry said. “Highlander has been helping the people in Appalachia achieve a better quality of life for many decades. We will stand in support of its mission.”

He said the 45-minute vigil will include a poetry recital, group singing and a performance by the Greater Love Church Choir. He said pastors and members of a number of area churches, as well as his students and others from Milligan College and Emmanuel are expected to attend.

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