NEWPORT—A documentary film currently under production will feature the history of one of Cocke County’s oldest celebrations.
The Tennessee Picnic, which dates to the 1940s, has been held in conjunction with the 8th of August celebrations of Emancipation Day.
On Saturday, April 16, William Isom, producer of the documentary, and Sam Cann, director/film editor, were in Newport to interview local citizens about the history of the local event.
Their interviews, along with photos dating back a half century or more, will be blended into other histories from celebrations in Greeneville and Knoxville.
According to Isom, the documentary will premier on August 8, 2016, over local PBS television stations. “This is part of a series of documentaries about black history in Tennessee,” Isom explained.
He has already worked with his cousin, Stella Gudger, who oversees a museum in Rogersville dedicated to Swift Memorial College.
“Beck Cultural Center in Knoxville is also involved,” Isom continued. “This will be a 30-minute film.”
Carlene Robinson organized Saturday’s interviews with local citizens and shared numerous photos with the duo.
The local interviews were done at Tennessee Picnic Association’s headquarters on Melton Street.
The Tennessee Picnic was organized after World War II to bring together families returning to Newport for reunions in a community-wide event. Many Newportians had left their birthplace to move north in search of better educational and employment opportunities.
The early organizers included Seville Reinhardt, Roland Dykes, Sr., Roland Dykes, Jr., David ‘Turk’ Frazier, Daugherty Brabson, Adie Pruitt, Sr., Charlie Brabson, ‘Mutt’ Gaylord, Jay Jackson, Winfred Hayworth, ‘Rabbit’ Brooks, Ted Rice, Sr., Ted Rice, Jr., Burnett Smith, George Mack, and Fred Smith.
Dr. Dennis Branch served as the group’s first president.
Initially organizers planned to alternate the celebration’s location between Newport and Detroit, where many Cocke Countians had relocated. However, after holding the picnic in Michigan for one year, organizers opted to have all future celebrations in Newport because in those days of segregation, travelers had problems finding hotels which allowed them to stay.
However, it was the group’s one-time celebration in Detroit that gave the event its name. Held at Belle Isle Park, Ted Rice, Sr. went early to reserve a spot for the picnic and erected a sign reading “Tennessee Picnic” and the name stuck.
During the course of the gathering, numerous activities, ranging from a fish fry to a beauty pageant are held. The week concludes with attendees encouraged to attend local church services.