The Highlander Center Raid

By Traci Cothran

When a new publication is released here at Gale, I like to take a peek at what colleagues have been working on. So today I opened up the new American Civil Liberties Union Papers, 1912-1990and WOW! What a treasure trove of history it holds!

I started with a “Rosa Parks” search, which returned 21 primary sources. One entitled “Integrated Highlander School (TN) Raided by Ku Klux Klan” caught my eye. Clicking on it exposed 51 pages of news releases, personal and business correspondence, court documents, newspaper clippings, and more.  The story unfolds piece by piece as you read each document—and I love how you have to use critical thinking skills to weave the parts together.

In 1963, the Highland Center was a private, integrated educational camp.  On July 20 at 3:00 a.m., the camp was raided by the local sheriff and his deputies, who—with no search warrant—removed and jailed all 25 campers, none of whom were informed of their constitutional rights.  The adults, who had spent the day painting a log cabin, were charged with disorderly conduct, possession of alcohol, and contributing to the delinquency of minors. (Most of these charges would be reduced and then finally dropped at trial.)

There is a very detailed letter of that day’s events written by Mrs. Marcel Brewer. She tells how the sheriff and deputies pulled the campers from their tents, aimed rifles at them, then made them walk about a mile in the mud to the road—supposedly done for their protection from “40 mountaineers … with shotguns.”

There are letters from the ACLU, pledging support for those arrested. A Petition for Removal requests the trial be moved to Federal Court, in part due to the hostile atmosphere at the local criminal court, where the judge received death threats and the camp was completely burned down. (The request was granted.) A pleading letter penned by Highland Center Director Myles Horton seeks donations to cover legal expenses.

It’s fascinating to read what is said, what is inferred, and what is held as common knowledge. There’s so much more—history really comes alive as you feel the emotion behind many of these papers. And this is just one story out of the scads covered in this resource! And where’s Rosa Parks, you ask? Why her name appears as a sponsor of the Highland Center.

Ready to take a deeper dive into Gale’s new Collection of Primary Sources? Contact your sales rep today!

Traci J. Cothran


About the Author


Traci Cothran is a manager in Gale’s Database Program and a history buff, so she can often be found watching videos from the early 1900s in Gale’s World History In Context.  

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