Collections

The Beck Cultural Exchange Center Archives Studio houses over 50,000 objects documenting over 200 years of local African American history and culture in its collection. These unique archival objects are grouped into collections usually by subject or donor. Learn more about our holdings by browsing these collections to see their related objects, people, and places. We would like to thank the INSTITUTE OF MUSEUM AND LIBRARY SERVICES GRANT (IMLS) for making it possible to share the Urban Renewal collection online. The Urban Renewal Project grant, awarded by IMLS under the Museum Grants for African American History and Culture, is allowing a more in-depth assessment of the people, places and effects of Urban Renewal and its continuing impact. The grant is enabling Beck the opportunity to preserve and catalog its one-of-a-kind collection and make it accessible to the community its collection of materials related to Knoxville's Urban Renewal Projects.

Browder's Studio (also advertised as B.B. Browder Photography) was one of the most popular photography studios in East Knoxville. Established in the 1910s by African-American photographer, Boyd B. Browder, the studio welcomed patronage from a diverse range of customers and was especially dedicated to producing gorgeous portraitures for Black clientele. In its beginning, the Browder Studio operated inside of a home once located at 108 West Hill Avenue. The property was owned by Thomas E. Jones yet occupied by Mr. Browder and his wife, Mrs. Ruth Browder. As the business took off, Browder moved his studio to the Vine Avenue area, once the center of Black owned businesses. His second studio was located at 405 West Vine Avenue circa 1915. Still in need of a larger work space, Browder again moved his business to 310 East Vine Avenue which, is where the business remained until its closing in the 1930s.

Renowned for capturing each subject with dignity and poise, Browder's Studio was highly valued amongst Knoxville's Black society and some of the most esteemed members within the community sought out Browder to have their pictures made. It was once said that Browder credited himself for being the first person within the city to produce glossy printed photographs.

As Browder was often commissioned to photograph for a variety of subjects and events, the content within this collection ranges from individual portraits to group shots and contains, but is not limited to, images of churches, schools, social gatherings, prominent figures, and glamorous men, women, and children.
James G. and Ethel B. Beck were two of the most glamorous and influential members of the black community in Knoxville during the period of the 1920s-1960s. James and Ethel married in 1913, and together they established the Ethel Beck Home for Colored Orphans in 1919. The Becks invested their money wisely and amassed a fortune in real estate and cars. James and Ethel were the last people to live in the Beck mansion. Funds from their estate were used to establish the Center.
The Research Lab at the Beck Cultural Exchange Center is the culmination of decades of collecting, researching, and preserving Black history in the East Tennessee region. This collection is open to the public for research use. 

Browse the collection here to see folders that are available for research. Each folder has a collection of news articles, photographs, correspondence, pamphlets or other historical objects related to the subject matter. Original archives objects related to these folders are found in the archives studio. 

We are always looking to expand our Research Lab. If you have research materials that you think we should add to our lab, please contact us and let us know. 
Knoxville’s Urban Renewal projects (1959-1974) affected the largely African American population, and consisted of the Willow Street Project, the Mountain View Project, and the Morningside Project. 107 African-American businesses were affected, as well as 15 African-American churches and more than 2,500 families, 70% of which were African-American.

Urban Renewal often dubbed Urban Removal or Negro Removal, was established under Title I of the Housing Act of 1949. The federal government granted assistance and loans to local communities wanting to eliminate slums, urban blight, and substandard housing. Yet, the devastating consequences, that disproportionately targeted minority communities through eminent domain, resulted in the displacement of many families.

Urban Renewal will come to an end in 1974 but, the ramifications of Urban Renewal continues. Knoxville’s Urban Renewal projects (1959-1974) affected the largely African American population, and consisted of the Willow Street Project, the Mountain View Project, and the Morningside Project. Beck was established in 1975 as a result of Knoxville’s Urban Renewal projects. It destroyed shacks and stately homes alike, businesses and churches. The projects relocated and displaced many black families. Much of the heritage of the black community was erased from the map. Edifices that once stood as monuments to the struggles of early leaders no longer exist. Absent of the establishment of Beck, these places and the people may never have existed.

INSTITUTE OF MUSEUM AND LIBRARY SERVICES GRANT (IMLS) The collection in the Beck Archive Studio, not currently available to the public, consists of 50,000 objects documenting over 200 years of local African American history and culture. The Urban Renewal Project grant, awarded by IMLS under the Museum Grants for African American History and Culture, is allowing a more in-depth assessment of the people, places and effects of Urban Renewal and its continuing impact. The grant is enabling Beck the opportunity to preserve and catalog its one-of-a-kind collection and make it accessible to the community its collection of materials related to Knoxville’s Urban Renewal projects.