After a fire burned the main building of a storied civil rights center in Tennessee last week, the center's organization has said that a white power movement symbol was found in the parking lot next to building rubble.
Highlander Center, which hosted civil rights, including Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Stokely Carmichael in the 1950s and 60s published their Facebook page on Tuesday.
No one was hurt, but the fire destroyed the office, which housed what the center said was decades worth of historical documents, speeches, artifacts and other memorabilia from its history, including the era of civil rights movement. The Wisconsin Historical Society, which is the center's official archivist, said that a majority of its archives are secure.
"Although we do not know the sins we know, the white power movement has been growing and consolidating power across the country, across the country and globally," it wrote.
The center, which consists of approx. 10 buildings on a 200 acre New Market campus, 20 miles east of Knoxville, were the site of a flame starting early Friday morning. At 6 o'clock, the center's main building was immersed in flames.
The fire is being investigated by the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, and state fire investigators.
Jefferson County Sheriff Jeff Coffey, who did not return a comment request, told Knoxville News Sentinel that the graffiti was a hashtag-like symbol discovered on the site Friday.
] "It's not a traditional, throw-it-in-your-face symbol that you will immediately recognize," Coffey told the newspaper. "But it has been used by individuals in the past. We have seen this symbol associated with different groups."
Chelsea Fuller, a spokeswoman for Highlander, told the Associated Press that the symbol "resembles a tic-tac-toe board."
White supremacist groups have burgled in Tennessee, according to the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, which traces hatred groups. A rock campus at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, where students are encouraged to paint, has been destroyed by white supremacist graffiti several times in recent years. And prominent white nationalists have been looking to expand their fringe movement among the school and its student body.
In early 2018, painted with hate symbols, including a gritty symbol of the Romanian Fascist organization, led by violent anti-Semitic Corneliu Zelea Codreanu in the 1920s.
And the state has been the target of several white supremacist collections, events and conferences in recent years, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups.
The Highlander Center was founded in 1932 as Highlander Elementary School in Monteagle in southeastern Tennessee, whose purpose was to organize the unemployed and working class people according to its website. It also fought segregation in the labor movement in the 1940s, which expanded into a wider fight against segregation in the 1950s. But these activities made it a goal – both by federal and state investigators in an era of anti-communist paranoia, as well as segregationists and racist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.
Rosa Parks attended a two-week workshop at a school desegregation center in 1955, just a few months before she made up Montgomery bus boycott, which helped beat segregation in public facilities in the south.
"It was my very first experience throughout my life to go to a place where there were other people and people in a second race and where we were all treated equally and without tension or feelings of embarrassment or what happens to artificial limits to racial segregation "told Parks interviewer Studs Terkel in 1973." And I would like to [Highlander founder] Myles Horton along with his staff and others on the mountain gave me my first insight that there were such people who believe completely on Freedom and Gender Equality for All. "
A book published by author John M. Glen on the history of the center noted that it faced consistent harassment peaking at its location in Knoxville in the 1960s.
"The employees lasted … a KKK parade past the middle, repeated vandalism, firebombs, burglary, firearms and taped voicemail, branding Highlander as a" malicious organization "whose" red spiders "learned" hatred, violence and rebellion. "
The Center, which did not respond to a request for comment opened in its current position in 1972.
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