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William Isom, II: Swift Memorial Institute Oral Histories and Interviews

The late Dessa Parkey Blair, Alumn, Swift Memorial Institute, 2013

Swift Memorial Institute alum Dessa Parkey Blair. Courtesy William Isom, II

Swift College Class of 1899

Swift College Class of 1899. Courtesy Swift Museum

Price Public Community Center and Swift Museum

Price Public Community Center and Swift Museum. Courtesy William Isom, II

Swift College (later Swift Memorial Institute) was established in Rogersville, Tennessee in 1883 by the Presbyterian church as a place of learning for formerly enslaved African Americans and their children. 

For 72 years, the school continued to build new buildings and expand its curriculum. Shortly after the court ruling forcing school desegregation, Swift College closed its doors and, in 1955, its administrative building was torn down.

Archival Seedling William Isom, II focused on making a collection of video oral history interviews with Swift alumni and researchers on Swift history available to the public through the Black in Appalachia website. One of Isom's intervieweeshis cousin, Stella Gudgerspent years sheparding the preservation and restoration of the last remaining local-area Black school that, today, lives on as the Price Public Community Center & Swift Museum. 

In addition to the web, Isom's collection of interviews is now on view and available through the Swift Museum, as well as the Hawkins County Archives and the East Tennessee Historical Society in Knoxville.

"The oral histories and historic narratives of Swift College are deeply significant to Hawkins County, Tennessee's Black community. These heart-held and personal stories are, in many cases, the bulk of what is left of this highly impactful Black school. To be able to help these community members and alumni make their stories available to the general public is invaluable." 

- William Isom, II

Listen to William Isom talk about how he learned about another local group of historically Black schools through his Swift interviews, and how it opened new doors to future research.