Beck Cultural Exchange Center Knoxville, Tennessee
Beck Cultural Exchange CenterKnoxville, Tennessee


A Significant Part Of The History Of Our Community

Mark Your Calendars For This Annual Event


Andrew Johnson, Tennessee Military Governor, who would later become the 17th president of the United States, freed his personal slaves in Greeneville, Tennessee on August 8, 1863.  


This date, August 8, became known as Emancipation Day. The first recorded celebration of the Eighth of August as Emancipation Day was in Greeneville, Tennessee in 1871. The best explanation of the origins of the celebration can be found in an August 8, 1921 article in the Knoxville Journal and Tribune. “Today will be observed as a holiday by the negro residents and practically all places of business conducted by negroes will be closed for part of the day at least, according to promoters of the exercises. Local speakers will address the audiences.  In most states January 1 is observed as Emancipation Day, but in Tennessee and a few other states, August 8 has been designated as the date for Emancipation Day exercises.  This custom originated because negroes owned by Andrew Johnson, at Greeneville, were set free on August 8, and Sam Johnson, one of the former slaves of Andrew Johnson, worked for a long time and was successful in having August 8 set aside for Emancipation Day observed in this section.”


Eventually the Eighth of August was celebrated in at least seven states and 55 communities.  It is still celebrated in Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri. Three of the people freed on the Eighth of August are laid to rest in the Freedmen’s Mission Historic Cemetery that is adjacent to Knoxville College.


In 1937, the Knoxville Flashlight-Herald, an African American weekly, sponsored the “Bronze Mayor Contest” in an effort to provide the local African American community “elected” leadership. The poll favored Dr. James H. Presnell and he became the “Bronze Mayor” and the “official” spokesman for Knoxville’s African American population. July 22, 1939, Mayor Presnell signed a proclamation urging all employers in the City to release as many colored citizens as is practicable, in order that they may participate in the activities and the celebration on Tuesday, August 8, 1939 in Chilhowee Park.  


During this period of legal segregation in Knoxville, Chilhowee Park was only open to African Americans one day a year, August 8, and this continued until 1948. 



Please consider donating to Beck today. We cannot do this important work without you. Thank you.

Where to find us

Beck Cultural Exchange Center
1927 Dandridge Ave.
Knoxville, TN 37915



Or use our Contact Form.

Museum Hours



November 28 & 29, 2019 


December 24,2019 Thru

January 2, 2020

Our museum is open during the following hours:

Tuesday - Saturday

10:00AM - 6:00PM


In the event of inclement weather we operate on the Knox County School Schedule.  Please See
Admission: FREE
Parking: FREE


You are welcome to take a Self-Guided Tour anytime during our Business Hours

Please Feel Free To Contact Us for Additional Information

Beck Exhibits

We have Permanent Exhibits and Feature ExhibitsPrepare to be intrigued

Calendar of Events

Museum Rental


Beck appreciates the ongoing support of ...

Print Print | Sitemap Recommend this page Recommend this page
© Beck Cultural Exchange Center, Inc.