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Exploring Chattanooga's Black History

By, 02/01/23, 6:45AM EST


black and white aerial image of Chattanooga with mission statement overlayed

From art and murals to music and historical sit-ins, Chattanooga is full of stories that commemorate Chattanooga’s Black History and the courageous individuals that left an imprint on our community and the world. Chattanooga Tourism Co. presents several ways to learn more about Chattanooga’s Black History and culture. 

ML King Blvd. 

Formerly known as 9th Street or “The Big 9,” ML King Blvd. was once the place where famous jazz and blues musicians performed to captivated audiences. Now, the street looks different but it has maintained a mix of old and new. Swing by the neighborhood to check out new businesses, eateries, breweries, amazing murals, and more.  

Howard High School Class of 1960’s Marker and Mural 

During the civil rights movement, the Howard High School class of 1960 made a courageous and historical stance. These students from Chattanooga were the only students in the nation that organized and led a high school sit-in. This historic moment has been captured with a plaque on Market Street in downtown Chattanooga near Miller Plaza, as well as an amazing mural on ML King Blvd. The marker and mural both commemorate the students that participated in the historic moment that made a lasting impact on our city and nation. 

brick museum building in background with Bessie Smith sign in foreground

Bessie Smith and Blue Goose Hollow 

Named after the “Empress of the Blues” — is in the heart of ML King Blvd formerly 9th street and the newly-remodeled museum touches on every aspect of the city’s African American history. Chattanooga Football Club men's team players from 2022 visited that Bessie Smith Cultural Center and African-American History Museum in 2022. You can watch that video below. 

Further into downtown, spend some time at Blue Goose Hollow where Bessie Smith grew up. Enjoy several murals near the Tennessee Riverwalk depicting Black History. 

Ed Johnson Memorial

Near the south end of the Walnut Street Bridge, visit the new reflective memorial that recognizes Ed Johnson and his brutal death by lynching. This new memorial honors the heroic and historic efforts of attorneys Noah Pardon and Styles Hutchins, and the African-American community that supported them. It also commemorates the landmark Supreme Court case that changed the course of American history and civil rights. The memorial is a welcoming contemplative space where people of all backgrounds and cultures can come to learn, reflect, mourn, and find inspiration. 

bronze statue of three me with natural sunlight on man in the center

Ed Johnson Memorial

Memo’s Chopped Wieners Restaurant 

Known as one of the longest-operating Black-owned businesses in Chattanooga, Memo’s is still serving hungry customers with their unique recipes. From down home ribs, chili, and their famous chopped wiener plate, Memo’s has been in business for over 50 years. When you stop by, you’ll understand why. 

The Impressions Tennessee Music Pathways Marker 

If you love good music, then you’ve probably heard the line, “It’s alright to have a good time” by the legendary Impressions. Did you know a few of their members are Chattanooga natives? Well, now you do. To learn more about The Impression's success and their history as a group, visit the Tennessee Music Pathways marker in front of the Bessie Smith Cultural Center on ML King Blvd. 

G.W. Franklin Historic Marker 

In 1894, G.W. Franklin moved his undertaking business from Georgia to downtown Chattanooga. This area was also a historic location for black-owned businesses. G.W. Franklin became one of the most prominent black business owners in the city. To this day, Franklin’s legacy continues in his family. You can find the historic marker about G.W. Franklin located on 6th street to learn more.