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Saturday, September 4, 2021

Groundbreaking for the Delaney Museum at Beck

On Monday, August 30, 2021, the Beck Cultural Exchange Center hosted a groundbreaking ceremony to announce the start of construction on the Delaney Museum at Beck, an international museum that will celebrate the history of the Delaney family.

Housed in the only remaining ancestral home of the Delaneys, Delaney Museum at Beck will
encompass galleries consisting of artifacts, historic photographs, and art that celebrates the legacy of the family that produced world-renown artists Beauford and Joseph Delaney.

Established in 1975, Beck is the only state-designated repository for African-American history and culture in East Tennessee. The cultural center acquired the the historic Delaney family home located at 1935 Dandridge Avenue in 2015 and announced plans to explore its restoration and possible adaptive reuse the following year. 

Following the passing of patriarch Rev. John Samuel Delaney in 1919, elder brother Samuel Emery returned home to provide for his family, including his mother Delia and his younger brothers Beauford and Joseph. Sam supported his brothers’ pursuit of art through a barbershop out of the family home at 815 East Vine Avenue in Knoxville. He purchased the house on Dandridge Avenue in 1948 for the growing Delaney family.

The home on 815 East Vine is no longer standing. It was destroyed by Knoxville’s Urban Renewal Projects, which were implemented lasted from 1959 to 1974. These projects disproportionately affected the Black community, resulting in the displacement of more than 2,500 families, 15 Black churches, and 107 Black businesses, including the Delaney barbershop. As a result, the 1935 Dandridge Avenue location is the only surviving home of the Delaney family.

Delaney home on Dandridge Avenue
© Wells International Foundation

Rear of Delaney homestead (left) viewed from Beck Center
© Wells International Foundation

Though the groundbreaking event announced the formal start of construction on the ancestral property, Delaney Museum at Beck is a project that is several years in the making. The vision for the new museum includes a permanent exhibit that celebrates the history of the Delaney family, an artist in residency program to nurture the talents of upcoming artists, and a rotating exhibit of African-American artwork.

The groundbreaking event took place on a significant date: August 30th, 2021 marks 102 years since the Knoxville Race Riot of 1919, an event that shaped the lives and world views of brothers Beauford and Joseph. Two days of racial violence shook the city as a mob of 5,000 white men descended upon downtown Knoxville in hopes of lynching a Black man. When they could not find him, the mob instead turned their ire toward the Black community located at the intersection of Vine Avenue and Central Street. 

Beauford personally witnessed this violence, and memories of it haunted him for the rest of his life.

Reverend Reneé Kesler, president of the Beck Center, presided over the ceremony, which took place outdoors under a tent at the property. Attendees wore masks and respected social distancing to maintain the health and safety of the community during the Covid-19 pandemic.


Rev. Reneé Kesler addresses the crowd
Image courtesy of Beck Cultural Exchange Center

Attendees at Delaney Museum at Beck Groundbreaking Ceremony
Image courtesy of Beck Cultural Exchange Center

Rev. Kesler had the following to say about this historic event:

“So why are we having the groundbreaking on this day? Because on August 30, 102 years ago, we were fighting for our lives. On that day, armed white men plotted to attack the Black community, and Black men prepared to defend themselves. This would be a defining moment in Knoxville’s history, and it was particularly horrifying for Beauford. Today, 102 years later, we sit under a tent to celebrate the groundbreaking of an international museum with a Black, white and brown community together,
commemorating a Black family of talented artists. I’m sorry if it’s a little warm, but it’s not as hot as it was 102 years ago.

“Beck is serious about preserving and conserving this rich and amazing history, and we are being intentional about bringing everybody along.”

Rev. Kesler expressed her belief that “Beauford Delaney is by far the most important artist Knoxville produced in the twentieth century, at least in terms of national and international reputation.” She believes that the Delaney Museum at Beck will build on the legacy of Beauford and the Delaney family and notes that while the construction of this museum doesn’t mean that racial inequality isn’t still an issue affecting the world today, it’s a step in the right direction.

See press articles about the ceremony below:

New museum at Beauford Delaney's ancestral home designed to inspire artistic expression

Beck Cultural Exchange Center breaks ground on Beauford Delaney Museum

Ceremonial Groundbreaking
Image courtesy of Beck Cultural Exchange Center

Zachary James Miller, the Paris-based producer/director/writer of the full-length documentary entitled Beauford Delaney: So Splendid a Journey, attended the ceremony and shot footage of the event to include in the documentary.

The Delaney Museum at Beck hopes to be open to the public by Fall 2022.

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