Who better to write historical studies of the Upper Cumberland than the people who live here?
For its insightful essays about this rarely studied region, “People of the Upper Cumberland: Achievements and Contradictions” has been named Tennessee History Book of the Year by the Tennessee Library Association.
“The Upper Cumberland is covered in the edges of other books, but very few have been devoted entirely to the region,” said W. Calvin Dickinson, professor emeritus at Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville and co-editor of “People of the Upper Cumberland.”
The book covers the Tennessee-Kentucky Upper Cumberland, which spans the 24 counties that, for the most part, border the eastern half of the Cumberland River -- from Pulaski County, Ky., in the north to Warren County, Tenn., at the southern-most edge.
Termed “astonishingly fresh” by the Tennessee Historical Commission, most essays characterize the region by its people -- both the famous and the infamous.
Co-editor Michael Birdwell, a professor of history at Tennessee Tech University, is a native Cookevillian and has interviewed people throughout the Upper Cumberland for 40 years.
That heritage includes stories from towns throughout the region:
• In Cookeville, John’s Place -- a tavern in a historically black neighborhood -- is one of 10 local properties on the National Register of Historic Places because of the role it played in improving race relations in Putnam County.
• A Clarkrange, resident, Kate Bradford Stockton, was the first woman to run for governor in Tennessee. Campaigning for equal rights for women, among other issues, Stockton lost to Gordon Browning.
• The Pleasant Hill community in Cumberland County, boasted one of the earliest tuberculosis sanitariums in the region. Its founder was May Cravath Wharton, one of few doctors in the area in the early 1900s, let alone a woman doctor. She also founded the county’s first hospital.
• Wayne County, Ky., and White County, Tenn. were the childhood homes of the first Tennessean appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, John Catron.
• McMinnville, the southern edge of the Upper Cumberland, was home to Tennessee’s most distinguished composer of classical music, Charles Faulkner Bryan, who tutored a young African-American man who would go on to become one of the most celebrated gospel singers in the U.S., Europe and Africa.
A jury of professional librarians and academic historians representing East, Middle and West Tennessee oversees the selection of each year’s award.
The Tennessee Library Association bestows two book awards annually: the Tennessee History Book of the Year, in collaboration with the Tennessee Historical Commission, and the Volunteer State Book Award for best children’s books -- as chosen by students through the Tennessee Association of School Librarians.
“People of the Upper Cumberland,” a 2015 release by the University of Tennessee Press, can be ordered directly from the publisher at utpress.org and at amazon.com. Copies of the first Upper Cumberland history collection edited by Birdwell and Dickinson, “Rural Life and Culture in the Upper Cumberland”, is also available at amazon.com.