About the Highlander Research and Education Center
In 1932, Myles Horton and Donald West founded the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee. What began as a community folk school for adult education quickly evolved into a center for southern and Appalachian activists and grassroots organizations. As such, it became a catalyst for several major movements for social change.
In the 1930s and 40s, the School assisted in labor organizing efforts, from woodworkers and coal miners to farmers and textile workers. Several of those efforts included black and white activists, and by the mid-1950s, its mission had expanded to fighting segregation throughout the South. Highlander became a “vital incubator” of the Civil Rights Movement and hosted a series of crucial workshops and training sessions attended by many of the Movement’s most prominent leaders, including Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. Highlander served to lay the groundwork for SNCC, the Mississippi Freedom Summer, and Citizenship Schools for African-Americans in South Carolina, Georgia, and elsewhere in the South.
Highlander's civil rights work provoked a vicious backlash among southern segregationists. At its 25th-anniversary workshop, held on Labor Day weekend, 1957, Highlander came under attack from members of the press who blamed the School and speakers at the event, Aubrey Williams and Martin Luther King, Jr., for the racial strife growing throughout the South. Soon afterward, the Georgia Commission on Education published a sensational piece of propaganda called “Highlander Folk School; Communist Training School, Monteagle, Tennessee.” Featuring pictures from the Labor Day event, including one of a black man dancing with a white woman, the publication proved to be an effective tool for organizing white supremacists against Highlander.
The campaign against Highlander culminated in 1961 in a move by the State of Tennessee to revoke the Folk School's charter and confiscate its land, buildings, and other property. Despite the support of people such as Eleanor Roosevelt and United Nations Under-Secretary Ralph J. Bunche, the Tennessee Supreme Court was able to manipulate the law to shut down Highlander. Anticipating the inevitability of defeat, leaders of the Folk School took action to preserve the ideas and work of Highlander by securing a charter for the Highlander Research and Education Center. The new Highlander relocated to Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1961 and remained there until 1971, when it moved to its current location. During this period, Highlander also began to shift its focus away from school desegregation to begin to look to other struggles for economic and social justice.
Today, The Highlander Center continues to thrive and has adapted its mission to serve Latino immigrants in the South, rural communities in Appalachia and the Deep South, and multi-racial and ethnic youth organizations. Learn more about the history of the Highlander Center [http://www.highlandercenter.org/ a-history.asp]
Highlander Research and Education Philosophy and Current Interests
(adapted from the Highlander Center Web site http://www.highlandercenter.org/about.asp)
The Highlander Center serves as a catalyst for grassroots organizing and movement building in Appalachia and the South. The Center works with people fighting for justice, equality and sustainability, supporting their efforts to take collective action to shape their own destiny. Through popular education, participatory research, and cultural work, the Center helps create spaces—at Highlander and in local communities—where people gain knowledge, hope and courage, expanding their ideas of what is possible. It develops leadership, and helps create and support strong, democratic organizations that work for justice, equality and sustainability in their own communities and that join with others to build broad movements for social, economic and restorative environmental change.
The founding principle and guiding philosophy of Highlander is that the answers to the problems facing society lie in the experiences of ordinary people. Those experiences, so often belittled and denigrated in our society, are the keys to grassroots power.
Today, that philosophy is reflected in the educational programs and services offered by the 21st-century Highlander Center. Highlander serves Appalachia and the South with programs designed to build strong and successful social-change activism and community organizing led by the people who suffer most from the injustices of society. Highlander helps activists to become more effective community educators and organizers, informed about the important issues driving conditions in communities today.