Exhibiting Impact: What I Learned from the Fayette County Civil Rights Movement

By Amy Ruggaber

It is my philosophy as an artist that EVERYONE HAS A STORY TO TELL AND A STORY TO HEAR.  Working on the Uplift the Vote exhibit and telling the story of Fayette County and Tent City was an education and a privilege.  Rarely do artists get to see the continued impact of their work, and yet, in this case, I did.

Amy Ruggaber, Curator Uplift the Vote Exhibit

I had to do maintenance on the exhibit weekly, so I would work quietly to one side while also being able to watch the interaction of the public with the tent. Occasionally I would see students stop and scan the panels on the exhibit, often while listening to their earbuds. Slowly the buds would come off, and the music would be stopped as the students were drawn farther into the narrative. Often the phone shifted purpose from music to camera, and the students would take pictures of the panels or specific images.  A few times I even witnessed a student pulling their friends into the exhibit, excitedly pointing out a person in a photo: “I know her!” I would hear. Either way, in that moment, history had become REAL. Tangible. Familiar.  This was and is where history and contemporary issues meet.

Uplift the Vote Exhibit Displayed in the Rotunda of the Ned McWherter Library. Fall 2018.

We need to know the value of our vote and the costs associated with it.  We cannot take it for granted.  That is why I am so thrilled that the Uplift the Vote exhibit is currently being hosted by the Fayette County Public Schools.  On display in one of the local schools, the children and grandchildren of these activists and those who opposed them will be able to study the movement and see documentation of the historic impact of the actions of their elders.  The community at large will be able to come and reflect on the challenges of their past and how it relates to the issues of present day.  As for me, I am looking forward to once again being a witness to the impact of the work.


Exhibit, “Uplift the Vote: Everybody Should Have A Voting Story”

Fayette County Public Schools Central Administration Building,10425 Hwy 76 S. Somerville, TN 38068

February 7 – March 7, 2019, Monday through Friday from 12 pm to 4 pm. The exhibit will be open on the following Saturdays: February 9, and 16, and March 2, 2019, 10 am to 2 pm.

The Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change at the University of Memphis and Fayette County Public Schools, Somerville, Tennessee invites you to experience “Uplift the Vote: Everyone Should Have a Voting Story,” a dual exhibit on the importance of our most basic civil right – the right to vote. Explore through photographs, documents and reflections, how African Americans’ demand for the right to vote in Fayette County, Tenn., in 1959 changed the lives of activists, the community and the nation through the exhibit. Then, prepare yourself for your own civic participation and learn how to register to vote in Tennessee. This exhibit is intended to educate and encourage citizens to exercise the right to vote, hard-won by African Americans and others.

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