A fire engulfed the main office building at the Highlander Research and Education Center in New Market, Tenn., on March 29. A symbol associated with white supremacy was found spray-painted at the center’s parking lot. State and county law enforcement is still investigating the cause of the fire with some federal assistance.
“While we do not know the names of the culprits, we know that the white power movement has been increasing and consolidating power across the South, across this nation, and globally,” stated the center’s April 2 press release.
The building was demolished but nobody was harmed in the blaze, which started in the early morning hours. The fire destroyed documents, memorabilia and other records, although many archives from Highlander’s 87-year history are stored off-site in Wisconsin.
Formed in 1932 as the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tenn., the center has long been a hub for racial, social and economic justice organizing in the South. Highlander held its first racially integrated workshop in 1944 as part of the fight to end segregation in labor unions, and served as a training ground and gathering place for civil rights organizers including Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr.
The state of Tennessee revoked Highlander’s charter in 1961, but it was renamed and reopened the following day. The center has been located in New Market, Tenn., since 1972. Highlander’s current social justice work includes connecting Appalachian, Deep South and immigrant communities, supporting LGBTQ+ rights and strengthening multi-racial and intergenerational organizing.
“What’s next for Highlander is that we will continue to be that sacred place, that movement home, that place where strategy is developed, that place where principled struggle happens, that place that accompanies movement, that place that incubates radical work, and that place that demands transformative justice,” stated the center’s press release.
To learn more or make a donation, visit highlandercenter.org. — By Molly Moore