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Fri, 02.25.1881

James and Ethel Beck, Educators born

James and Ethel Beck

*The lives of James Garfield Beck and Ethel Benson Beck from 1881 are celebrated on this date. They were Black educators and entrepreneurs.

James Garfield Beck was born in 1881, and Ethel Benson Beck was born in 1896. He came to Knoxville in 1898 from Camden, Alabama, to attend the Knoxville College Normal School, which he finished in 1902. He graduated from Knoxville College in 1906. In college, Beck distinguished himself in several sports and was particularly good in baseball. After graduation, he taught at several schools, including Austin High, in 1910. He also served as the first athletic director at Knoxville College.

Mrs. Beck was a native of Morristown, Tennessee, and received her early training at Morristown College. It is possible that the Becks first met when he played baseball against the Morristown team. They were married in 1913, the same year he became the first Black postal clerk in Tennessee at the Knoxville Post Office.  They were two of the most glamorous and influential members of Knoxville's Black community during the 1920s, '30s, and '40s. Ethel and James Beck were in the forefront of Black civic, church, and social activities. They were extremely attractive, had money, and were athletic. Beck was an intellectual, while his wife had a business mind. Over the years, they collected a fortune in real estate.

The Becks were involved in establishing the Knoxville Colored Orphanage in 1919. That summer, a popular subscription raised about $7,500, and property near Knoxville College was purchased for the project. After several months, Ethel Beck was elected to head the board. Within two years, she announced that she intended to build a first-class brick building to cost approximately $10,000. She made good on that promise, and by 1941 the name of the orphanage was changed to the Ethel Beck Home For Children. Being a sports enthusiast, she played in a national tennis meet in Bordentown, New Jersey, in 1928. She was the superintendent of the playground at the popular Cal Johnson Park for four years.

James Beck was a lifelong Republican who served as sergeant-at-arms at the 1940 National Republican Convention. Also, he was one of the chief organizers of the Knoxville Branch NAACP in 1919. He was a candidate for the city council in 1951. Ethel Beck was active with the Order of Eastern Star and served as Honored Grand Conductress for eight years. She was president of the Tennessee State Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers. The Beck Cultural Exchange Center in Knoxville is also named for the Becks. James died in 1969, and Ethel died one year later.



The Knoxville News Sentinel
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Knoxville, TN 37921-5761

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