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So Scarritt Bennett Has a Collection, Why Do I Care?

December 3, 2022

Can you believe it's already December, which means its the end of the fall semester and we were sad to see our fall intern, Morgan Stence, leave us :(

But for the brief time we had her, she was a congenial addition to our happy crew. And of course, she did work for us too!

Morgan processed the Scarritt Bennett Center Collection for her project, which covers the various events, lecture series, workshops, and festivals - primarily the Celebration of Cultures Festival. 

Scarritt-Bennett Collection - Celebration of Cultures Festival
Scarritt-Bennett Collection - Celebration of Cultures Festival. From Germantown Slide Collection.

And now, I'll step out of the way to allow Morgan to tell you about the collection in her own words...

What is Scarritt Bennett and Why Do I Care?

Okay, so this might be your question. Why do I care that the Scarritt Bennett Center has a collection that I can look at? I can understand your confusion about why it might be important that a place in Nashville has a collection at the Metro Archives. When I first started my internship, I asked the very same thing: “Why is this a collection?” But this is different. Trust me. 

A while back, Sarah talked about how Nashville is the “Athens of the South.” She gave an overview of the history to the title and how it’s a sort-of catch all phrase referencing the dedication of Nashville to education, specifically the colleges and universities of Nashville.

They seem to be everywhere. I mean think about it, in West Nashville you have Tennessee State, Vanderbilt, Belmont, and Lipscomb all within a 15-minute drive from each other. But that is not where the educational emphasis of Nashville stops. The Scarritt Bennett Center Collection reminded me that education is not just for the post-secondary. It includes individual organizations as well. 

Aerial view of Scarritt College, circa 1930-40's
From the Walter Williams Collection, an aerial view of Scarritt College, circa 1930-40's.

Okay, but Why Now?

Let me paint a picture for you, I am just an undergraduate at Middle Tennessee State University who has a staggering interest in learning about archives. A little nerdy, yes, but hey what can I say? From Sarah - told you she fit in.

I applied for an internship at Metro Archives, and after two interviews, I was given two options for the collection I was to work on: the Altrusa Club Collection or the Scarritt Bennett Center Collection (primarily featuring the Celebration of Cultures Festival). 

After a quick trip to Google like a true researcher, the Celebration of Cultures Festival that I was initially drawn to was confirmed as my project. I knew I wanted something that investigated Nashville history, and I wanted to learn more about a topic that I wasn’t familiar with. 

Sounds Interesting, What Is It?

From the Germantown Slide Collection - Celebration of Cultures Festival

The festival started in 1996 by the Scarritt Bennett Center (SBC). They are a nonprofit center which offers a space where “individuals and groups engage each other to achieve a more just world” (Scarritt Bennett). 

They really love to be a place for education. Their message is all over the collection (really, there are a ton of brochures for you to look at which highlights this). They have a conference or workshop for pretty much everything, which makes this a broad collection for research topics.

For instance, if you are comparing how different nonprofits went about teaching topics such as multiculturalism, sexuality, and history, then this is a great way of getting some primary sources.

Are you trying to look up religious conferences that have taken place since the 1960's? Scarritt Bennett did that. 

Want to see some letters and correspondences of who helped sponsor different events or look at one of the many (many) articles that SBC is represented in? The collection has this too.

From formal documents and letters to photos, VHS tapes, and cassettes, this collection covers a lot of areas, including religious, academic, and even cultural topics.

Document below: This is a letter from the Sexuality Workshop. The host had asked one of his friends to explain her experience with her sexuality, so others might be able to understand and learn.

This is a letter from the Sexuality Workshop. The host had asked one of his friends to explain her experience with her sexuality, so others might be able to understand and learn.

What are the Highlights?

Scarritt Bennett Collection - the Celebration of Cultures Festival
Activities during the Celebration of Cultures Festival at the Scarritt Bennett Center.

The big highlight of this collection is the Celebration of Cultures Festival (or what I call the "C of C" because of the shorthand used by the Scarritt Bennett Center). The "C of C" started as a way of connecting people to their roots.

The people at Scarritt Bennett saw a hole in the culture of Nashville in the late 1990's and decided that they needed to do something about it. It became a meeting place of a variety of cultural identities that all live in Nashville. This festival was started in 1996 and was run by Scarritt Bennett until 2011, when it was turned over to Metro Parks.

The festival is still around today, just under a different name: Celebrate Nashville Cultural Festival. 

This is the proclamation of "Celebration of Cultures Day" signed by Mayor Philip Bredesen

There are other events and programs that the Scarritt Bennett Collection has information on. For instance, there are the Miller Lectures which date back to 1968 and discuss missions to Latin America. These were a project done by Dr. Evelyn Berger Brown and Scarritt Bennett Center in memory of her parents, Bishop and Mrs. Miller, who were missionaries to Latin America.

There are also smaller community projects such as the garden and, like I said before, a wide range of specific subjects that had workshops and programs at Scarritt Bennett.

Another topic that might not be as significant to some is the role of publicity in Nashville. This collection has a significant number of documents which show the different organizations involved with making events, programs, and workshops known to public audiences in Nashville. All of which contribute to the voice of the collection being a part of the “Athens of the South.” 

Cool, Now What?

As you can probably tell, this collection goes beyond the start of the Celebrate Nashville Cultural Festival. It expands the idea of Nashville as the “Athens of the South” and makes it broader than colleges and universities. Being a part of the "Athens of the South” means having a voice. All it takes is one organization throwing everything they used for a program into a box, drawer, file cabinet, etc., and giving that item over to the people who see the value in it, to make what some might disregard entirely, an example of history.

So, come listen to a smaller voice of history. Learn about education in Tennessee in a different way. Embrace the idea of the “Athens of the South.”

From Sarah: Hear, hear, Morgan - well said! 

'Til next time, 


Inside the Scarritt Bennett Center during the Celebration of Cultures Festival
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Sarah is a Program Coordinator with Metro Archives. Her interests and areas of expertise are history, reading books (of any kind), music, travel, Harry Potter, and bingeing a good comedy series. When not in Archives, she is either nose-deep in a book or planning her next trip. Learn more about the fascinating materials found at Metro Archives through their website.