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Memphis Tennessee Garrison


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Teacher and civic activist Memphis Tennessee Carter (March 3, 1890-July 25, 1988) was born in Hollins, Virginia. Her father was a former slave who became a coal miner, and she grew up in the southern West Virginia coalfields. She married William Melvin Garrison of Gary, McDowell County, an electrician and coal company foreman, on October 5, 1918.

Garrison graduated from Bluefield State College in 1939. She taught school in McDowell County and also served as a welfare worker for the U.S. Steel Company in Gary, its company town. In this latter capacity, she helped to settle racial disputes, provided counseling to black miners and their families, and developed cultural and recreational opportunities for residents of the area.

Garrison was active with the Republican Party and with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She helped to develop and sustain chapters of the NAACP in southern West Virginia, and served as a national vice president and as a field secretary who undertook special organizing and membership activities. One of her most important achievements was the creation of the Christmas Seal Project, which became an important fund-raising effort for the NAACP.

After retiring from the McDowell County school system, Garrison moved to Huntington where she served as a substitute teacher and continued her public activities. She died in Huntington. Her Huntington home was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2017.

Written by Ancella R. Bickley

Sources

  1. Bickley, Ancella & Lynda Ann Ewen. Memphis Tennessee Garrison: The Remarkable Story of a Black Appalachian Woman. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2001.

  2. Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993.

  3. Thomas, Dolores. Memphis Tennessee Garrison: The Real Gains of a Life 1890-1988. West Virginia Beacon Digest, 8/30-9/7/1988.