Fellowship Report: Stefanie Haire (PhD student, MTSU, currently Regional Historic Preservation Planner at the Southeast Tennessee Development District)
With the SESAH Graduate Research Fellowship, I was able to travel to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for a week to study in the Presbyterian Historical Society archives during the summer of 2022. This was especially pertinent to my doctoral work, as the archive holds key information about the central figures of my dissertation, named Horace and Hettie Brazelton.
Horace Brazelton (1877-1956) was the first African American portrait photographer to operate a professional studio in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His career spanned the course of almost fifty years, amidst Jim Crow segregation and racism. Unfortunately, his remarkable story is now largely unknown in Chattanooga. His forgotten contributions to the black business district on East Ninth Street (now known as MLK Boulevard) are also not the only examples of lost stories or silenced voices, further hinting at a broader erasure of African American history. Despite the related challenges, Mr. Brazelton and his wife Hettie (Hodge) Brazelton (1876-1957) acted as pillars of their community and provided multiple social services through their professional, volunteer, and church work.
Memorialization of the Brazelton family legacy was complicated by the Westside Urban Renewal Project, which razed 436 acres of black-owned property in Chattanooga, including Leonard Street Presbyterian Church. Horace and Hettie were both active in this church for some fifty years, though only few records survive at the Presbyterian Historical Society.
Before visiting in person, I performed a cursory search online and found mention of the Brazelton name at the archive. One result in particular excited me, as it simply listed a photograph title (but not an image) of the church elders with a caption including the name, “H. Brazelton.” I initially thought that it would be wonderful to have a second photo of Horace, and I proposed my trip with the idea to dive deeper into those records. To my surprise and delight, the “H. Brazelton” included in the photo of church elders was actually Hettie Brazelton. This discovery meant that I finally found my first photograph of Mrs. Brazelton, and also hints at the magnitude of her involvement in both the church and community. The importance of this cannot be understated, as both African American stories and female history are severely underdeveloped in the field of historic preservation.
Further, my trip to Philadelphia allowed me to gain valuable insight into the church congregation’s relocation plans once the city’s urban renewal program was approved. The Presbyterian Historical Society archives included minutes from elder meetings, as well as a detailed report on relocation efforts since the members knew the destruction of their beloved church was imminent. My online search results did not include these valuable resources, so my in-person visit was essential to find these historical breadcrumbs. Since most of Chattanooga’s Westside is no longer extant, this provides a more robust framework for future study beyond my dissertation.