TSU memorabilia going into new Smithsonian African-American Museum

At TSU Smithsonian Luncheon, [l-r]: Grant Winrow, TSU Director of Special Projects; Chandra Cheeseborough, TSU Track Coach and former Olympian; Damion Thomas, Smithsonian Curator; Edward Stanley Temple, retired Olympic and TSU Track Coach; Edwina Temple, daughter of Coach Temple; Kelli Sharpe, TSU Assistant Vice-President (photo by Cass Teague).

At TSU Smithsonian Luncheon, [l-r]: Grant Winrow, TSU Director of Special Projects; Chandra Cheeseborough, TSU Track Coach and former Olympian; Damion Thomas, Smithsonian Curator; Edward Stanley Temple, retired Olympic and TSU Track Coach; Edwina Temple, daughter of Coach Temple; Kelli Sharpe, TSU Assistant Vice-President (photo by Cass Teague).

Olympic Gold Medalist Wilma Rudolph, her legendary track and field Coach Edward Stanley Temple, the famed Tigerbelles, the first-ever African-American basketball team to win a national college basketball championship – and they did it for three consecutive titles, are major parts of the rich sports history of Tennessee State University. The incredible accomplishments of the TSU athletics program will be part of three planned exhibits in the Sports Gallery of Smithsonian Institution’s new National Museum of African-American History and Culture. It is located on the National Mall in Washington. D.C., on five prime acres between the Washington Monument and the National Museum of American History, targeted to be opened mid-2016 by President Obama.

Dr. Damion Thomas is curator for the museum’s Sports Gallery, one of the ten galleries which comprise the museum. He toured TSU on Tuesday, June 2 to get a first-hand look at many of the items there depicting the university’s rich sports history.

Accompanied by TSU officials led by coordinator for special projects Grant Winrow, the curator explored Brown-Daniel Memorial Library, Wilma Rudolph Hall, Hale Stadium, Ed Temple Track, the Olympic plaza & statue, Gentry Complex, as well as the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in downtown Nashville.

Among the treasured items the curator viewed were gold medals, championship trophies, bronzed track cleats, uniforms, programs, along with rare photographs, portraits, and busts of TSU trailblazers, like NFL quarterback Joe Gilliam and NFL Hall of Famers Richard Dent and Claude Humphries and their legendary football coach John Merritt, basketball coach John McClendon and his “three-peat” national champions, among many others.

Highlighting Dr. Thomas’ visit was meeting with Coach Temple, who took 40 athletes from TSU to the Olympic Games, helping them win 23 medals — more than 157 countries in the world have ever won. Temple shifted the focus from himself to his Tigerbelles, and said “I am glad that what they are doing will finally give these young ladies their due recognition. They worked hard to earn all that they achieved.”

Display of shoe worn by TSU Alumni and Olympic Gold Medalist Wilma Rudolph (photo by Cass Teague).

Display of shoe worn by TSU Alumni and Olympic Gold Medalist Wilma Rudolph (photo by Cass Teague).

The curator also met with Chandra Cheeseborough-Guice, Tigerbelle Olympian 1976-84, who made history winning two gold medals at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Cheeseborough-Guice will be an assistant coach in the Pan-Am games this summer in Toronto. She is 8-time and current OVC “Women’s Coach of the Year,” and has led the track and field program to eight Ohio Valley Conference Track and Field Championships.

During a luncheon with TSU officials and members of the Black Press, including Dwight Lewis, author of the classic chronicle of the rise of TSU’s athletic glory, A Will to Win, Dr. Thomas gave a spell-binding presentation on the new museum. The 400,000-square-foot structure will feature 105,000 square feet of exhibition space, noted as two times the area of the White House. Among its ten galleries are three History Galleries, three Culture Galleries, and Four Community Galleries. A collection of artifacts of slavery and freedom, mementos of military service, symbols of the civil rights movement, the Harlem Renaissance, as well as a comprehensive collection of fine art including paintings, sculptures, works on paper, installations, photography, and digital media by and about African-Americans, and more will be on display.

According to Dr. Thomas, the Sports Gallery (one of the four Community Galleries) will include a room called “The Game Changers.” It is dedicated to individuals like Wilma Rudolph, whose contribution went beyond the track or playing field to changing the course of history. The museum has collected over 40,000 artifacts to date, and a staff of 160 is developing the inaugural exhibitions for the opening next year. Smithsonian officials estimate annual visits to the African-American Museum of History and Culture will average between four to five million people in its first few years.

Fun Facts: The museum’s Oprah Winfrey Theater is named for the TSU graduate, who has put $13 million toward the project. And, as Dr. Thomas reminded me, admission to Smithsonian museums is free.