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African American History at Booker T. Washington State Park

February 24, 2021  |  Permalink

As we celebrate African American history throughout the month of February, we also recognize the ties to our cultural heritage. Shared and equitable access to our parks is directly tied to our mission to preserve our natural landscape and the history behind it. T. O. Fuller State Park and Booker T. Washington State Park are two parks in Tennessee that were established for the state’s African American population in an age when segregation barred equal access to the landscape. In this blog, we review the history of Booker T. Washington State Park.

Booker T. Washington State Park

Entrance sign at Booker T. Washington State Park in 1972

Photo: The entrance sign to the Booker T. Washington State Park in 1972, located near Chattanooga, Tennessee. Sourced from TVA.

The land used to build Booker T. Washington State Park, originally Booker T. Washington State Park for Negroes, was first leased from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in 1938. The property spanned approximately 350 acres just north of Chattanooga on what would become Chickamauga Lake, a reservoir created when the TVA constructed the Chickamauga Dam in 1940.

Drawing of Booker T. Washington State Park in 1940

Photo: Drawing of Booker T. Washington State Park (then Harrison Bay Negro State Park) near Chattanooga, Tennessee. Sourced from TVA, 1940.

As the land was being leased from the TVA, they reserved all rights to reclaim it for any reason if they had the need or if it was used for any reason outside of serving the area's African American population. The park's construction and care were stagnant for some time, with most of the park's initial recreational facilities being completed between 1948 and 1950 when the park was officially dedicated.

Composite of fourteen photographs showing the daily life of Civilian Conservation Corps Company 3459

Photo: Composite of fourteen photographs showing the daily life of Civilian Conservation Corps Company 3459. Sourced from TVA, approximately 1937.

Like T.O. Fuller State Park, Booker T. Washington State Park was constructed in part by New Deal-era agencies like the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Works Progress Administration (WPA), and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Many of these workers lived in cabins on-site while constructing the parks, as you can see in the image above. As with T.O. Fuller State Park, Booker T. Washington State Park created a space for the area's African American population to access their surrounding natural environment and escape crowded urban areas, although the size and condition of African American facilities were often lacking when compared to white spaces.

A view of the picnic area near the swimming pool at the Booker T. Washington State Park

Photo: A view of the picnic area near the swimming pool at the Booker T. Washington State Park near Chattanooga, Tennessee. Sourced from TVA, 1950.

Tennessee State Parks were eventually desegregated in 1962, although their history remains tied to the civil rights movement and struggle for equal citizenship for African Americans. Today, both T.O. Fuller and Booker T. Washington State Parks continue to serve Tennesseans and visitors alike, with educational programming and facilities that offer a wide range of recreational opportunities.


Learn more about African American history at Booker T. Washington State Park by visiting.

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