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Poet Nikki Giovanni Unveils Historic Marker 
A big crowd warmly greeted acclaimed poet Nikki Giovanni back home to Knoxville this week. 

The Knoxville-born writer, educator and activist read poetry and told stories to those who came Thursday to the Cal Johnson Recreation Center, 507 Hall of Fame Drive, for the unveiling of a historic marker honoring Giovanni and reminding passersby that near here once stood her grandparents' home.

Nikki Giovanni unveiling historical marker

"Nikki Giovanni is our native daughter, and we’re proud of her powerful writing voice and all she’s accomplished as a visionary poet, activist and educator," Mayor Madeline Rogero said. "She represents the best of Knoxville."

NPR has referred to Giovanni as one of the world’s most celebrated poets, known for her beautiful descriptions of family, friends, politics and even food. As a writer, Giovanni has won the Langston Hughes Award, the Carl Sandburg Literary Award, seven NAACP Image Awards, and dozens of additional recognitions.

Check out a photo gallery of the May 23 unveiling at http://bit.ly/NikkiGiovanniMarker.

Nikki Giovanni unveiling historical marker

"I write a lot about Knoxville, because Knoxville is my heart," Giovanni said.
She w
as born at the Old Knoxville General Hospital and was educated at Austin High School. In between, she grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, but she spent summers with her grandparents at their home at 400 Mulvaney Street, which has since been renamed Hall of Fame Drive.

Nikki and her sister, Gary Ann, played at Cal Johnson Park.

Watch a video below of Nikki Giovanni sharing stories and reading her poem entitled "Knoxville, Tennessee." 

But there is another reason why this historic marker is so important, Mayor Rogero said, "and it is not a proud chapter in our city’s history."

In the early 1960s, a so-called “urban renewal” project devastated the African-American community in this part of Knoxville.

Knoxville gained a Civic Auditorium and Coliseum, and over the years, this venue has brought hundreds of concerts, sporting events, circuses, Broadway shows and other performances to Knoxville. It has hosted eight U.S. Presidents.

But to Giovanni’s family, and many other families, it was also a heart-breaking loss.

One of Giovanni’s best-known essays is “400 Mulvaney Street," in which she recounts her grief at the loss of the house of her grandparents, Professor John Brown and Louvenia Watson, and the surrounding African-American neighborhood. 

"I hope we have learned our lessons from the 1960s," Mayor Rogero said. "Today, neighborhood engagement is a key first step in the process as we make plans to reinvest in and revitalize our neighborhoods and city."

Nikki Giovanni unveiling historical marker

Mayor Rogero then shared with Giovanni the good things that are happening now at Cal Johnson Park and Recreation Center – the site where Nikki and her sister played as little girls.

The City is about to begin a $550,000 renovation to upgrade and modernize the inside of this well-used rec center.

The City offers a free after-school program for children, and the KORE Summer Camp Program serves kids ages 6-12. This also is the City’s only site to offer a teen program for children 13-15 years old. Last summer, 84 children were registered. (This summer, the camp will be moved to nearby Green Magnet School due to the rec center renovations.)

The gym is heavily used for youth basketball, both for practices for the Center City Youth Sports Program during the week and games on Saturdays. Cal Johnson hosts the City’s Holiday Classic Basketball Tournament and City Tournament games.

Parks and Recreation also hosts adult basketball leagues at the gym on Sunday afternoons in the winter and summer.

There is a lot of use for open play basketball and the weight room, and a few dance groups have used the recreation center recently.

There’s a chess program for children. Elijah Clarke, who works at the center, is a chess player and has worked with others to teach the game to youngsters.

As all these people enter Cal Johnson Recreation Center, they will first walk past this historic marker and remember 400 Mulvaney Street.

Click here to read a tender account of Giovanni's visit, her influence and her Knoxville roots, written by Scott Barker of Compass.

Posted by evreeland On 24 May, 2019 at 3:05 PM