The Highlander Spring allowed the public to taste natural spring water collected from a natural spring on the original site of Highlander Folk School while learning about Highlander School’s history. This project was made in collaboration with Molly Sherman and Harrell Fletcher.
Highlander Folk School was founded in 1932 by Myles Horton in Grundy County, Tennessee. In the 1920s, Horton traveled to Denmark to learn about folk schools and returned to create a place where people who were working on social change in their own communities could come together to learn from each other. While attending workshops related to labor issues and civil rights movement, Highlander participants would share meals, sing, dance, and participate in recreational and cultural activities on the land. On Labor Day in 1957, Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech to a small crowd in the Highlander library called “A Look to the Future.” Documentary photographs and film footage show interracial swimming in a lake which is said to have been built by early Highlander participants.
In a time when racial tensions were high and segregation was a social expectation, Highlander was openly integrated. Blacks and whites were working together, organizing, and empowering each other—many of whom became instrumental in the civil rights movement including Rosa Parks and Pete Seeger. Over fifty years later we had the opportunity to visit the original Highlander site, stand in front of a now empty library and look across to the Highlander lake. We learned that there was a natural spring that fed the lake and had provided drinking water to Highlander’s buildings and cabins. We knocked on the door of the man who now lives on the property and he showed us to the spring house where we each had a chance to drink from the spring. We imagined all the people who had come before us and all the important work they had done together. They had all drank from this same spring water.
The Highlander Folk School continues to thrive and is now known as Highlander Center for Education and Research. Still located in a rural community it focuses on the environment, economics, immigration -- issues that people organize around in the south.