As Knoxville celebrated its 225th anniversary five years ago, she happily passes the torch to Tennessee, celebrating its 225th state anniversary on Tuesday.
It is important to recognize the residents of Knoxville and East Tennessee who helped make the state what it is today.
This influence began when Knoxville was the capital of the newly formed Southwest Territory through its time as the state capital for over 20 years when Tennessee was added to the Union.
As the capital eventually moved west – first to Nashville, then back to Knoxville, then to Murfreesboro before settling in Nashville – Knoxville remains a dynamic gateway to the National Park. Great Smoky Mountains and a cultural and educational center for the Southeast.
Here’s how some influential Knoxvillians and East Tennessians shaped the state and its place in history. Looking for a more comprehensive list of notable Knoxvillians? The city has one on his website.
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The territory’s first governor, appointed by President George Washington, and one of the state’s first two U.S. senators, William Blount helped establish Knoxville and made eastern Tennessee one of the region’s premier powers.
He also had the distinction of being a senator who was indicted and tried after being expelled from office.
After that, he returned to Tennessee and was elected to the State Senate.
Knoxville during the Civil War
East Tennessee, and in particular Knoxville, had the distinction of being a dividing line of allegiances during the Civil War. While most of the state leaned or supported Confederacy outright, eastern Tennessee was largely filled with trade unionists.
After Tennessee voted to secede, becoming the last state to leave the Union, a pro-Union group attempted to create a separate state in eastern Tennessee. This, of course, failed.
The Union Army easily took control of Knoxville in 1863, roughly in the middle of the war, and resisted several Confederate attempts later that year to expel them from Fort Sanders and other strongholds. surrounding the city.
Representative Harry Burn
Although not from Knoxville, State Representative Harry Burn came from below in McMinn County, which he represented in the state legislature.
He was instrumental in Tennessee’s ratification of the 19th Amendment. The amendment, giving women the right to vote. would not have been ratified in 1920 without state support.
In Tennessee, the Senate had approved Amendment 25-4. The House made two attempts to table the ultimate vote on the suffrage, and both times the vote resulted in a tie. Seeing equality, House Speaker Seth Walker assumed that a vote on the suffrage bill itself would also be equal and fail.
For his part, Representative Burn had voted twice to drop the measure. But when Walker called for an up or down vote on August 18, 1920, Burn, under pressure from everyone from his mother to President Woodrow Wilson, changed his mind and voted ‘yes’, obtaining the majority.
The House voted 50-46 in favor, making Tennessee the 36th and final state needed to ratify the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing the right to vote for white women, while women of color would face additional hurdles for decades to come up.
Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry and Memphis’s Beale Street attract the lion’s share when the state’s rich musical history is mentioned, and it’s right. But don’t overlook the contributions of musicians from Knoxville and East Tennessee.
Roy Acuff is named “King of Country Music” for a reason. Acuff, according to the Country Music Hall of Fame, helped make country music a big business, bridging the gap between the “era of string bands” and the big groups mainstream today. Acuff was born in Maynardville and his family moved to Fountain City when he was still young.
The Everly Brothers attended Knoxville High School, stormed Nashville, and were one of the first rock and roll acts with outfit come from the state. The duo are members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame and have received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Really, this list could only have one name and that would be enough. While Dolly Parton wasn’t technically from Knoxville, the East Tennessee native shaped the region’s economy and helped redefine the country music industry. Knoxville will always claim it.
If those names don’t do it for you, maybe Kenny Chesney, Kelsea Ballerini, Dave Barnes, or Chris Blue will.
Unlike the rest of the state, eastern Tennessee has been a Republican stronghold since before the Civil War. Once the rest of the state turned red, eastern Tennessee was ready to take the lead with strong, mostly moderate Republican candidates.
It started with US Senator Howard Baker, whose Scott County home is northwest of Knoxville. Baker became the majority leader in the Senate and shaped decades of bipartisan politics.
Baker was followed by mentee Lamar Alexander. The native of Maryville was the first person to serve two terms as governor (state law was amended to allow this before his election). He brought the auto industry here and helped set the stage for the state’s growth for decades to come before being elected to the United States Senate, where he served for three terms until January.
Bill Haslam’s first work in politics was Alexander’s governorship campaign in 1978. Former Knoxville mayor and two-term governor shaped education policy with the Tennessee Promise, led the state through growth quick and tried to expand Medicaid here.