DEATH OF KNOXVILLE CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST AVON ROLLINS, SR.
Knoxville, Tennessee (JFK+50) A charter member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, civil rights activist Avon Rollins, Sr.* died here in Knoxville last Wednesday, December 7, 2016.
According to the Knoxville News-Sentinel, Mr. Rollins began working with SNCC when he was a student at Austin High School here in the city. The Sentinel staff writes...
"(Avon Rollins, Sr.) worked for more than half a century to improve lives for blacks and other minorities."
Mr. Rollins once said...
"I've been beaten, shot at and put into jail 30 times (but) I tried to make America a better place to live..."
One of the most iconic photographs of Knoxville's civil rights history is of Avon lying on the sidewalk out in front of the Tennessee Theatre on May 11, 1963 holding up a sign in protest of segregation in the city's movie theaters.
In an interview in 2012, Mr. Rollins expressed his views on the Kennedy administration's handling of civil rights. He said the President's regard for civil rights "was lax" and added...
"I don't know if things would have changed had Kennedy taken his second term...things changed when Johnson became president because of the grieving of the nation over President Kennedy. Johnson was able to push legislation..."
After retirement from TVA, Avon Rollins, Sr. became director and CEO of Beck Cultural Exchange Center.**
*Avon Rollins, Sr. (1941-2016) was born in Knoxville, TN & graduated from Austin High School. As a civil rights activist, AR took part in the 1963 March on Washington and worked as the manager of minority resources at TVA. He was also president & CEO of Rollins & Associates, a managing consulting firm.
**Beck Cultural Exchange Center, located in Knoxville, TN, was established in 1975 as an African American teaching & learning museum & cultural center. Beck has an extensive archives collection & is regarded as Knoxville's storehouse of regional African-American history & culture.
It was my honor and pleasure to meet Avon Rollins, Sr. at the Beck Cultural & Exchange Center in June 2008 and to hear him give a very interesting and enlightening talk to our group of teachers who were part of a civil rights workshop sponsored by the East Tennessee History Center. I also spoke with Mr. Rollins personally and he signed a photograph of himself working with SNCC. I found him to be a most personable and gracious host. Mr. Rollins will be missed in our community and nation.
"Avon Rollins, Sr. Interview," 2012, www.crmvet.org/
"Beck Cultural Exchange Center," Knoxville, Tennessee, www.beckcenter.net/
"Civil rights activist Rollins dies," Knoxville News-Sentinel staff, December 9, 2016, www.knoxnews.com/
Avon W. Rollins