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Juneteenth speaker lines up with freedom

On June 9, Dr. Tommie Morton-Young will be in Memphis to keynote this year’s Juneteenth Luncheon at The Racquet Club of Memphis, 5111 Sanderlin Ave. When Dr. Tommie Morton-Young was 16 and living at home with her parents in Nashville, she wrote a poem that expressed her opposition to segregation and discrimination. The poem, published in “Songs of the Free,” is indicative of her thinking today: “For me there is a line drawn where I eat, or sleep or make my home.”

Dr. Tommie Morton-Young
Morton-Young has drawn many lines in her fight for freedom and justice since penning those words. Now a reputed civil rights activist who still lives in Nashville, her resume is accentuated with honors and accomplishments.

On June 9, Morton-Young will be in Memphis to keynote this year’s Juneteenth Luncheon at The Racquet Club of Memphis, 5111 Sanderlin Ave. The Luncheon is the official kickoff of the 18th Annual Juneteenth Freedom and Heritage Festival, June 17-19, in Douglass Park.

The quest for freedom and justice didn’t stop Morton-Young after she’d scribbled her thoughts down on paper. She felt compelled to fight harder to redress the ills of society. Six years before penning the poem, she’d enrolled in the NAACP at the behest of her mother and grew up reading the NAACP’s Crisis Magazine.

A product of the Nashville Public Schools, Morton-Young would go on to graduate cum laude from Tennessee State University; George Peabody College (now Vanderbilt University) in Nashville, the first African-American graduate earning an M.A. degree; and Duke University, where she received her doctoral degree.

A lifetime member of the NAACP, Morton-Young has chaired the NAACP Education Committee in two states and received numerous awards from the organization, including the Greensboro Branch, the High Point Branch, the Nashville Branch, and the Tennessee Conference of Branches.

In 2005, she led the successful challenge to the closing of seven predominantly black schools. In 2009, she served as expert witness for the plaintiff in the Spurlock v. Fox case with reference to rezoning the Metro Public Schools. She has been called the “Champion for the at-risk child.”

Morton-Young’s challenge to study at the all-white George Peabody College drew national headlines in 1955. She was admitted and became the first African American to graduate from the then-independent institution.

She went on to work with Roscoe Leonard in Louisiana and returned to Nashville to participate in sit-in efforts. Shortly thereafter, she was the first woman appointed chair of the State Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) in North Carolina.

During the USCCR hearings, the SBI and FBI were called to guard commission members after the “Nazi/Klan Shoot-Out in Greensboro, N.Car.” Five Duke University student demonstrators were killed, and no one was convicted.

Morton-Young also served as co-chair of an organizing body that responded to a Klan rally in 1987. She walked the front line. As chair of the Advisory Committee, Morton-Young initiated hearings on “Pay Equity for Women and Minorities,” “Disparities in School Placement of Minority Children,” “Where Mules Outrank Men- A Study of Migrant Workers,” and challenged the position of some school leaders who believed children should be graded and placed by race.

After completing research for her doctorate on “self identity” in Nassau, Commonwealth of the Bahamas, Morton-Young became keenly aware of the fragmentation of “self-concept” of groups that experience forced migration. She secured a grant, which allowed her to travel and study “family history and genealogy.” She was one of the early writers in African-American genealogy and wrote the book, “Afro American Genealogy Sourcebook,” which continues to be a basic reference source in genealogy research.

In l994, Morton-Young founded the African American Genealogical and Historical Society of Tennessee, which continues today, offering classes in family history and genealogy.

Her forthcoming book will detail the society’s Black Family Heritage Conference, which makes use of annual sojourns (field trips, tours) to one of the counties in the state. The purpose of the experience is to identify and unearth obscure history of African Americans in the 15 counties she’s visited so far.

Now retired from the University of North Carolina, Morton-Young held professorial and administrative posts in distinguished institutions in several states and served in government in Washington, D.C. She continues to work on boards and commissions and actively pursues justice. She consults and lectures, and owns and operates the Authentic Tours of Historic Black Nashville and Beyond – A Teaching Through Tourism Endeavor, which is designed “to inform, educate the public, and explicate the remarkable progress and contributions of African Americans that history books tend to overlook.”

Morton-Young is a widow, mother of one married daughter, and a grandmother of two.

At a glance

• The 18th Annual Juneteenth Freedom and Heritage Festival will be June 17-19 in Douglass Park.

• This year, Juneteenth is saluting The Divine Nine, a collaborative of fraternities and sororities: Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, and Iota Phi Theta Fraternity. Morton-Young is the former Basileus of several Chapters and past National Grammateus of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority.

• The Divine Nine will be recognized throughout the three-day festival and featured along with a plethora of entertainment (poets, performing artists, storytellers), musical acts (R & B, hip-hop, old school, classical, Neosoul and gospel), food vendors, games, exhibits, horseback rides, kiddy rides, and more.

• Admission to Douglass, 1616 Ash St., is free.

• For more information, call Glynn Johns Reed: 901-385-4943, or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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