Join Us for NPT’s Big Yellow Bird Bash on Saturday, April 1, 2017

Gather your friends, drape yourself in yellow and make plans to attend NPT’s sixth annual Big Yellow Bird Bash on Saturday, April 1, from 7 to 10 p.m. The event takes place at Houston Station in the Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood and is for fans and supporters of Nashville Public Television, especially those who grew up watching programs like “Sesame Street” and who care about the next generation of public television viewers. Proceeds support NPT’s educational, cultural and civic programming.

Big Yellow Bird Bash attendees are encouraged to dress in yellow attire – from formal to spirited ‒ and pose for photographs on’s Yellow Carpet upon arrival. The evening includes dancing, light bites and cocktails, and a silent auction.

Silent auction items include:

  • Nashville Predators (autographed jersey & 4 tickets to game)
  • Nashville Zoo behinds-the-scenes tour
  • Tennessee Crossroads local on-shoot with crew
  • Indigo Hotel (one-night stay)
  • Ona Ultimate Skincare gift certificate
  • Tennessee Foreign Language Institute  (for any group foreign language class)
  • Nashville Farmers’ Market Dinner (2 tickets)
  • Guitar autographed by Joe Bonamassa
  • Ross Poldark life-sized cutout from the popular Masterpiece series
  • Tennessee Crossroads gift basket

Tickets to the Big Yellow Bird Bash are $50 per person; a contribution of $60 or more includes access to NPT Passport, a streaming portal featuring on-demand episodes of many favorite past and present PBS and NPT shows via streaming media player, computer, smartphone or tablet. NPT Passport is an added benefit for donors to public television; more information is available here.

Similar Stories of Freedpeople on ‘Mercy Street’ and in Tennessee

By Rob DeHart
Tennessee State Museum

Emancipation Proclamation at the Tennessee State Museum, February 2013

The Season 2 finale of Mercy Street ties up a number of plotlines while leaving a few lingering questions. One of the major themes of the series is how African Americans continued their march toward freedom and in telling these stories, Mercy Street also hits upon the main injustices of slavery.

In my career as a public historian, I have fought against the too common belief that slavery “really was not that bad.” Some people would argue that slaves had decent clothing, food, and shelter, whereas the poor in the urban North did not always have these things. This was especially true for the thousands of Irish immigrants arriving in the United States just prior to the Civil War. Thus, according to these deniers, some free persons had it as bad as or worse than slaves.

But as Mercy Street has pointed out – particularly in the Season 2 finale – the fallacy of this argument is that quality of life is also based on freedom of choice. How would it feel to have your children sold away from you or to be denied the right to marry whom you please? How would it feel to know you will never be permitted to do anything beyond backbreaking labor that enriches your owner? These and a host of other injustices are what made slavery so horrific.

It is one of the great triumphs of American history that freed African Americans immediately exercised their new rights by getting educated, joining the army, finding paid work and getting married. As on Mercy Street, former slaves and missionary groups especially viewed education as a source of empowerment. Tennessee was one of the few Southern states that did not have laws prohibiting the education of slaves, but few slaveholders provided lessons.

Watercolor Pulaski School Teacher by William Masters, Battery F, 2nd Louisiana Colored U.S. Artillery, 1864, 2012.275.2

During the Civil War, large numbers of contraband slaves poured into cities from plantations hungering for an education and African Americans started some of the first schools for freedpeople to satisfy that demand. In Nashville in 1862, the Rev. Daniel Wadkins, a free black Baptist minister, started a school for freed slaves. Schools for freedpeople were also established in Pulaski, Columbia, Springfield and Memphis. Organizations in the North sent black and white teachers to Tennessee to fill the need for instructors.

One way students used their new writing skills was to send letters to the Northern organizations that offered support. Alice Walker, who was studying at a freedpeople school in Gallatin, wrote to her Northern benefactor: “It is true I am very small but the small can do something, I want to be useful while I am young, and when I grow up I hope to make a useful woman. . . I want to see the day when our race will be educated. We are learning very fast and if we keep on will be able to teach others.” These are powerful words from an 11-year-old who had just escaped bondage, words that would ring true in 1866 when Fisk University was established with the goal of training African-American teachers.

African Americans seized freedom for themselves, but as shown in Mercy Street, there was great significance to President Lincoln issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. In some ways, the Proclamation was more symbolic than practical. Lincoln took a lot of heat for it, even from abolitionists, because it failed to liberate slaves in states occupied by the Union Army. Therefore, the Proclamation did not have any effect on slaves in Tennessee. Lincoln did not want to antagonize Unionists who were slaveholders (yes, they really did exist), so they were exempted. Only slaves in Rebel states, over which Lincoln had very little control, were freed. The document made it more difficult for the Confederacy to claim that the war was about states’ rights and economic issues. The Proclamation attempted to make the war a moral struggle.

Emancipation Proclamation at the Tennessee State Museum, February 2013

In February 2013, thanks to funding provided by Gov. Bill Haslam and the Tennessee General Assembly, the Tennessee State Museum became the only Southeastern stop on an unprecedented tour of the original Emancipation Proclamation from the National Archives. Because the document is so sensitive to light, it is rarely viewed by the public, but it was brought out for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. The National Archives only permitted it to be displayed for 72 hours over a seven-day period. The response was overwhelming – around 30,000 people came to the museum to view the document. Anyone can find copies of the Proclamation online, but clearly, people wanted to be in the presence of the original that still resonates today. This document in concert with the actions of tens of thousands of freedpeople changed the course of American history.

Rob DeHart received his M.A. in public history from Middle Tennessee State University, is a peer reviewer for the American Alliance of Museums and is currently developing content for the new Tennessee State Museum opening in 2018.


NPT Hosts Free ‘Newtown’ Indie Lens Pop-Up Screening in March

Join us Tuesday, March 14, for a free Indie Lens Pop-Up screening of Newtown, a powerful documentary that explores the aftermath and resilience of a community devastated by trauma. The event takes place in the Nashville Downtown Public Library auditorium (615 Church St., 37219) and begins with a reception at 5:30 p.m. The screening begins at 6 p.m. and will be followed by a discussion with panelists Keith King, community relations manager, Alive Hospice; and Beth Joslin Roth, executive director of Safe Tennessee Project. NPT’s LaTonya Turner will serve as moderator.

Newtown Trailer from Mile22 on Vimeo.

Newtown is Kim A. Snyder’s film about the aftermath of the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, the deadliest mass shooting of schoolchildren in American history. Through poignant interviews with parents, siblings, teachers, doctors, and first responders, Newtown documents a community still reeling from the senseless killing, fractured by grief but driven toward a sense of purpose.

To learn about NPT’s free screenings and other events, please check Newtown airs on Independent Lens on Monday, April 3, at 8 p.m.


As on ‘Mercy Street,’ Artists Documented the Civil War in Tennessee

By Rob DeHart
Tennessee State Museum

Lisette Beaufort (Lyne Renee). Credit: Courtesy of PBS/Erik Heinila

The second season of Mercy Street introduces the character of French anatomy artist Lisette Beaufort. Her primary job at the hospital is to create illustrations of patient wounds and medical procedures for publication in medical instruction books, but she also records poignant moments for the people of Mansion House. This character reminds us how important sketch artists were during the Civil War and that the advent of photography did not decrease the demand for them.

Photography was very much in its infancy in 1860. Studio portraits only became practical and affordable in the mid-1840s with the improvement of the daguerreotype, which recorded light on a chemically coated copper plate. These photographs required painfully long exposure times for the subjects, and the expensive equipment and toxic chemicals kept photography a commercial enterprise (home photography technology did not evolve until the late-19th century). Also, these photographs were one-of-a-kind and could not be easily reproduced.

By the mid-1850s, the advent of wet plate photography upgraded the process and reduced exposure times. As the “wet plate” label suggests, this process required that the plates be developed quickly, as a result photographers needed to have chemicals nearby to create a successful image. Ambrotypes (images on glass) and tintypes (images on iron) followed, but it was the carte de visite that really thrust photography into mainstream America. The carte de visite, which is French for “visiting card,” was printed on small paper cards and was affordable for most people. The prints could be mailed without fear of breaking, and multiple copies could be produced. Most surviving Civil War-era photographs in the Tennessee State Museum’s collection are carte de visites or tintypes.

Despite these advances, the whole nature of taking a photograph during this time was very cumbersome, thus most photographs were produced in studios. Photographers who shot streetscapes and battlefields, such as the famous war photographer Matthew Brady, traveled with portable darkrooms to develop the images on site. Unlike today when a scene can be captured quickly by whipping out a cell phone, Civil War photography was not adept at capturing fleeting moments and it was mainly through artists’ sketches that the general public saw the Civil War.

Fort Donelson POWs by Alexander Simplot, 2014.128.2

The Tennessee State Museum’s collection of Civil War sketches generally falls into two categories: illustrations produced by professional artists for print media and soldier art. The drawing below was created by Alexander Simplot, who covered the Civil War for Harper’s Weekly Magazine. Simplot traveled with the Union Army and was present when Confederates surrendered at Fort Donelson northwest of Nashville on February 16, 1862. This drawing presumably depicts two Union soldiers guarding 10 captured Confederate soldiers.

Nashville Female Academy by A.E. Matthews, 78.29.14

Another example is this color lithograph depicting the Nashville Female Academy when it was being used as a barracks for the 51st Ohio Volunteers during Union Army occupation. The lithograph was created from a soldier’s drawing and provides one of the best images of this elite Nashville educational institution that was located close to where the downtown YMCA is today.




The museum recently acquired this excellent piece of soldier art depicting the railroad bridge above Running Water Creek in Whiteside Valley, Marion County, near Chattanooga. It was drawn by Charles Waizenegger, a soldier with the 75th Regiment Pennsylvania Infantry. In many cases, drawings like this fill important gaps of the Civil War landscape where photographers failed to tread. Fortunately, soldiers and professional artists used their talents in Civil War Tennessee to record some important moments and landscapes.

Railroad Bridge in Marion County by Charles Waizenegger, 2013.94.1

New Season of NPT’s Emmy Award-Winning ‘A Word on Word’ Series Begins

A new season of A Word on Words premieres on air on Sunday, Feb. 19, at 10:26 a.m., and is available online at and the NPT Arts Connection YouTube channel. The second season opener features Nashville author Ann Patchett interviewed at her bookstore, Parnassus Books, by Mary Laura Philpott (who also handles social media for the bookstore).

Ann Patchett (left) and host Mary Laura Philpott during an A Word on Words taping.

NPT’s A Word on Words, hosted by Philpott and Nashville novelist J.T. Ellison, received a Midsouth Regional Emmy Award in January 2017. The rebooted series premiered in October 2015 and was designed for a changing media landscape while staying true to its core emphasis on authors, writing and the promotion of reading as it was under the long stewardship of respected journalist John Seigenthaler.

Each A Word on Words episode is a three-minute interview shot in locations throughout Middle Tennessee with a thematic connection to the book. A list of reading recommendations from the featured author appears at the end of each interview. Behind-the-scenes photographs are displayed on and extended interviews are also available for viewers to enjoy.

This season will highlight 11 authors, including Alan Furst, Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney and Emma Straub. There are also plans to interview John Hart, Megan Abbott, Robert Hicks, Adam Haslett, Yaa Gyasi and Helen Ellis during Humanities Tennessee’s annual Southern Festival of Books in October.

#keepreading – and keep watching!

Farmer Jason’s March 4 Concert at the Belcourt Upholds Spring Tradition

Spring means the return of green grass and bright flowers. It also means Farmer Jason is back for another fun-filled kids concert at the Belcourt Theatre! This year’s performance takes place on Saturday, March 4, at 10 a.m.; tickets are $12 ($10 for Belcourt members).

Farmer Jason is the ecologically minded alter-ego of Jason Ringenberg of Jason and the Scorchers. Ringenberg drew on his own farming background in 2002 to create the character in order to teach children about farm life and the wonders of nature.

The concert at the Belcourt Theatre will be a mix of sing-alongs and dancing. It’s just Farmer Jason performing solo with his acoustic guitar, drawing from folk, country, and rock ’n’ roll with a dash of DIY punk rock. He’ll also discuss nature appreciation, ecology and farm animals.

This event is geared for children ages 2 to 8, but all are welcome to this spirited, high-energy performance!

Farmer Jason has three records and a DVD to his credit, as well as “It’s a Farmer Jason,” an Emmy-winning short video shown on several public television stations around the country. His records have won numerous awards, including the Parents’ Choice Gold Award and the Los Angeles Times’ Children’s Record of the Year list.

Click here for tickets, or call the Belcourt Theatre at (615) 846-3150. A portion of the proceeds support Nashville Public Television’s efforts to provide educational and engaging children’s programming.

Civil War-Era Prostitution on ‘Mercy Street’ and in Nashville

By Rob DeHart
Tennessee State Museum

Hospital for prostitutes on 2nd Avenue, Nashville, 1864, Tennessee State Library and Archives

In episode three of Mercy Street, Dr. Foster and Nurse Hastings are sent to treat a Union Army officer for a sexually transmitted disease. The episode touches upon the prevalence of prostitution in occupied cities and military camps during the Civil War. Nashville not only experienced this problem, but also took the extraordinary step of legalizing prostitution in an effort to control sexually transmitted diseases among the city’s prostitutes and Union Army soldiers.

Prostitution existed in Nashville long before the Civil War. Poor single women and widows were especially vulnerable because 19th-century society provided few employment opportunities for women. In fact, newspapers often referred to prostitutes as “abandoned women,” suggesting that their condition resulted from not having husbands. In response, some elite women and men in Nashville set up charities to help poor single women stay out of prostitution. One of these charities was the House of Industry for Females established in 1837. The institution took orphaned girls and young women off the streets of Nashville and trained them in domestic skills.

Pills from extract of the Kava Kava plant to treat gonorrhea, about 1910, TSM 87.1.3081.

Prostitution flourished in Civil War Nashville for two reasons. First, the war disrupted working-class families sending men into the army or exile, leaving many women without a means of financial support. Second, the city experienced the influx of thousands of Union soldiers, many looking for ways to relieve the boredom of camp life. As a result by mid-1863, sexually transmitted diseases had reached epidemic proportions among soldiers. As seen in Mercy Street, medical treatment for these diseases was painful, not always effective, and could sideline a soldier for weeks.

To curb the epidemic, the Union Army came up with an extreme solution: It directed that all prostitutes in the city be rounded up and transported north. Estimates range from a few hundred to a thousand women being forced to leave the city via rail or steamboat. One documented transport was the steamer Idahoe, which tried to deliver a group of these women to the city of Louisville. After Louisville refused to accept the women, the steamer traveled further upriver to Cincinnati, but was again rejected. After a 28-day trip, the steamer returned the women to Nashville charging the army $1,000 for damages to the quarters of the vessel and more than $4,000 for food and medicine.

License to practice prostitution in Nashville, 1863, National Archives

With the army’s plan to remove the prostitutes a failure, it decided that the best way to control sexually transmitted diseases in Nashville was to create a licensing system for the women, essentially legalizing prostitution in the city. The army announced that all prostitutes were to report for a medical examination or risk serving 30 days in jail. If found disease-free, the women were required to pay $1 license fees and would be permitted to practice their profession as long as they returned every 14 days for a follow-up examination. If a woman was found to have a sexually transmitted disease, she would receive proper treatment in a hospital set up specifically for prostitutes.

According to army reports, 393 prostitutes were licensed following the implementation of this plan. By January 1865, 207 women and 2,330 men were treated for sexually transmitted diseases in Nashville. One of the hospitals for the prostitutes was located on 2nd Avenue, probably north of Gay Street. The hospital for the men was located in the former Hynes School building (built in 1857) on the corner of Jo Johnston Street and 5th Avenue. Neither building exists today.

The army terminated the plan in Nashville when the war ended. Today, a few counties in the United States have legalized prostitution and it is noteworthy that these prostitution licensing systems are not too different from what was instituted in Nashville in 1863.

Mercy Street airs 7 p.m. Sundays on NPT.

Rob DeHart received his M.A. in public history from Middle Tennessee State University, is a peer reviewer for the American Alliance of Museums and is currently developing content for the new Tennessee State Museum opening in 2018.

Maya Angelou, Smokey Robinson Among 2017 Black History Month Features

NPT is observing Black History Month with new programs celebrating the lives and accomplishments of African Americans. This year’s offerings include a new profile of Maya Angelou; a Smokey Robinson special, a new Henry Louis Gates Jr. series; and The Talk, an insightful documentary about conversations parents of color feel they must have with their children.

Here are highlights from our February offerings:

AfropPop: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange airs Wednesdays, Feb. 2 – March 2, at 11 p.m.
Actress Nicole Beharie is the host of Season 9, which includes An American Ascent (Feb. 2), about the first African-American team to tackle Denali, North America’s highest peak. Black Out (Feb. 23) follows Guinean children as they seek lighted areas in which to study for exams.

Independent Lens
airs Mondays, Feb. 6 and 13, at 9 p.m.
Based on Dick Lehr’s book by the same name, Birth of a Movement (Feb. 6) traces Hollywood’s legacy of misrepresentation and negative racial stereotypes from D.W. Griffith’s 1915 film The Birth of  a Nation to the present. Danny Glover narrates this documentary which includes interviews with historians, writers, and filmmakers including Spike Lee, Reginald Hudlin, Jelani Cobb, Vincent Brown, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race & America (Feb. 13)
shares the surprising story of a musician’s unusual hobby of befriending KKK members in an effort to change their minds about race. Davis – who has backed Chuck Berry, Little Richard and other legendary performers – also collects robes and hoods of people who end up leaving the Klan after meeting him. This film by Matt and Noah Ornstein was awarded NPT’s Human Spirit Award at the 2016 Nashville Film Festival.

Smokey Robinson: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Music on Friday, Feb. 10, at 8 p.m.
A rhythm and blues icon whose career spans more than 50 years, Robinson has created hit songs that have become a mainstay in American pop music. As a producer and record executive, Robinson helped lead a musical revolution called the Motown sound. This evening hosted by Samuel L. Jackson celebrates Robinson’s receipt of the 2016 Gershwin Prize in December with performances by Gallant, JoJo, Ledisi, Kip Moore, Corinne Bailey Rae, Esperanza Spalding, Joe Walsh, BeBe Winans and Robinson himself. Motown founder Berry Gordy also makes a special appearance.

John Lewis: Get in the Way on Friday, Feb. 10, at 9:30 p.m.
In town to receive the 2016 Nashville Public Library Literary Award last fall, Rep. John Lewis was astounded when Mayor Megan Barry presented him with oversized images of his mugshots taken during Nashville protests in the 1960s. Lewis – a bestselling author, Medal of Freedom Recipient and civil rights icon – is the subject of an hour-long documentary that includes never-before-seen interviews shot over 20 years. Other key interviewees include civil rights activists Andrew Young, C.T. Vivian, Juanita Abernathy and Bernard Lafayette, as well as Lewis’ congressional colleagues Eleanor Holmes Norton, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Emanuel Cleaver and Amory Houghton.

Soul City on Reel South airs Tuesday, Feb. 14, at 11 p.m.
A 1970s utopian community founded in North Carolina is the subject of this program, one of this season’s offerings on Reel South. The series is produced by the Southern Documentary Fund and is hosted by Darius Rucker.

The Talk: Race in America airs Monday, Feb. 20, at 8 p.m.
Using six personal stories – including that of Samaria Rice, whose 12-year-old son, Tamir, was killed by police in Cleveland, Ohio – to explain the discussion black and Latino families have with their children about how to interact with law enforcement personnel. In addition to the perspectives of ordinary people in California, Missouri, Ohio, South Carolina and Tennessee, The Talk shares the experiences of  police officers as well as Kenya Barris, creator/executive producer of Peabody Award-winning ABC series “black-ish”; musician/activist Nas (Illmatic, Life Is Good, Untitled); actor/director and activist Rosie Perez (Do the Right Thing, White Men Can’t Jump, Fearless, Pineapple Express); director/screenwriter/producer John Singleton (Boyz N the Hood, 2 Fast 2 Furious, Baby Boy, Poetic Justice, Hustle and Flow); and New York Times columnist Charles Blow.

Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise airs on American Masters on Tuesday, Feb. 21, at 7 p.m.
Singer, dancer, activist, poet and writer Maya Angelou inspired generations with her lyrical and provocative writing. Best known for her autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, she gave people the freedom to think about their history in a way they never had before. The first feature documentary about her life, Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise includes never-before-seen footage, rare archival photographs and videos and Angelou’s own words to tell her story. The film also features exclusive interviews with Bill Clinton; Oprah Winfrey; Common; Alfre Woodard; Cicely Tyson; Quincy Jones; Hillary Clinton; Louis Gossett; Jr.; John Singleton; Diahann Carroll; Valerie Simpson; Random House editor Bob Loomis; and Dr. Angelou’s son, Guy Johnson.

Viewers can share stories of inspirational women in their own lives via text, images or videos on the American Masters website or via Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #InspiringWomanPBS as part of a year-long online campaign.

Africa’s Great Civilization airs Monday, Feb. 27 and Wednesday and Thursday, March 1 and 2, at 8 p.m.
Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s latest documentary highlights the history of Africa before the colonial era. In this beautifully filmed six-hour miniseries, Prof. Gates travels the length and breadth of the continent from the city of Great Zimbabwe to the pyramids of the Kingdom of Kushner in Sudan, from the spectacular rock-hewn churches of Lalibela in Ethiopia to the continent’s oldest university in Fez, and from the Blombos Caves in South Africa to Ancient Mali. He covers 2,000 years before the European “scramble” to claim Africa’s natural resources.

Other programs returning to our lineup this February are a slate of American Masters profiles of musicians airing Thursdays at 8 p.m., including B.B. King (Feb. 9) and Jimi Hendrix (Feb. 16); as well as documentaries about groundbreaking African-American women airing Mondays at 11 p.m., Black Ballerina (Feb. 20) and Black Women in Medicine ( Feb. 27).

In addition, NPT’s own history documentaries, Looking Over Jordan: African Americans and the War and First Black Statesmen: Tennessee’s Self-Made Men, will be broadcast on Thursday, Feb. 9, at 9 and 9:30 p.m.

Find our full programming lineup at and be sure to visit our Black History Month page.

Black History Month programming on NPT is made possible through the financial support of


As on ‘Mercy Street,’ Spying and Smuggling Were Common in Civil War Tennessee

By Rob DeHart
Tennessee State Museum

Alice Green (AnnaSophia Robb) and Capt. Lance Van Der Berg (Chris Wood). Credit: Courtesy of PBS/Erik Heinila

Spoiler alert: This blog post may contain plot spoilers.

In The House Guest, this week’s Mercy Street episode, Alice Green feigns love for a Union soldier in order to gather information for the Rebellion. This scheme turns out to be more dangerous than she thought and results in tragic consequences. Green’s actions mirror Civil War stories of Middle Tennesseans who tried to aid the Confederacy through espionage and smuggling.

Though women could not join the Confederate Army, there is widespread evidence that they tried to help the cause by smuggling goods across Union lines into the camps of Confederate soldiers. This was enough of a problem that in December 1862, the Nashville Daily Union announced: “To the Ladies – We are informed that the Military Police of this city have adopted a rule to examine all females passing through the lines, who may be suspected of carrying contraband goods, letters, etc. The practice has become so common that they have deemed it absolutely necessary to adopt this course.”

The Annals of the Army of the Cumberland provides an account of an unnamed African-American female servant and her employer caught smuggling for the Confederacy. She was trying to leave Nashville in a cart when it was stopped and searched. The Union guards found nothing suspicious in the cart, but when the woman jumped down to be searched, a “string broke from about her waist, and down tumbled to the ground two pairs of long-legged cavalry boots” which had been hidden in her skirt.

There are also accounts of Confederate spies in Middle Tennessee. One of the most infamous female spies associated with Nashville was Clara Judd. The Annals reported that she traveled from Nashville to Louisville with the purpose of acquiring quinine and other medicines for the Confederacy, but her true intent was to pass Union Army information to Confederate raider John Hunt Morgan. Judd’s information on Union troop strengths and locations along the Louisville and Nashville Railroad helped Morgan lead successful raids. When the Union Army learned of Judd’s involvement, she was arrested and sent to a military prison in Alton, Illinois.

Sam Davis’ boot. Tennessee State Museum.

Tennessee’s most famous Civil War espionage story, however, is that of Sam Davis. Born in Rutherford County, Davis served in the 1st Tennessee Infantry, and by 1863 had become a member of “Coleman’s Scouts.” Davis’ job was to work behind enemy lines collecting information on Union troops and delivering that information to Confederate authorities. He was captured in Giles County by Union troops in November 1863 and accused of being a spy when papers with sensitive information were found in one of his boots. It was believed this information could only have come from a Union officer and not just from his observations as a scout. Davis’ life would have been spared had he revealed his source, but he refused, saying “Do you suppose that I would betray a friend? No, sir, I would die a thousand times first.” He was then hanged at the age of 21.

The Union chaplain who attended Davis at the scaffold collected his effects and sent them to Davis’ mother in Smyrna. Eventually many of these items came into the collection of the Tennessee Historical Society and the Tennessee State Museum. Davis’ boot, which is reported to be the one cut open by Union soldiers to reveal the hidden papers, is on display. One account suggests that the shackles worn by Davis while he awaited execution were cutting off his circulation, which may explain why the boot was cut down almost to its sole. Visitors can also see Davis’ overcoat at the museum. More than 150 years old, this coat has been carefully conserved to inhibit deterioration.

Sam Davis’ overcoat. Tennessee State Museum.

Because Davis accepted death rather than reveal his source, some called him the “Boy Hero of the Confederacy.” In the late-19th century, a group of citizens funded the building of a monument to Davis that still sits on the Tennessee State Capitol grounds. Also, his boyhood home in Smyrna is now preserved as the Historic Sam Davis Home and Plantation. Davis’ short life demonstrates the danger faced by soldiers and civilians who engaged in espionage during the Civil War.

Rob DeHart received his M.A. in public history from Middle Tennessee State University, is a peer reviewer for the American Alliance of Museums and is currently developing content for the new Tennessee State Museum opening in 2018.

NPT wins 2017 Midsouth Emmy Award; Producer Simington Honored

Matthew Emigh, J.T. Ellison, Beth Curley, Linda Wei and Mary Laura Philpott at the 2017 Midsouth Regional Emmy Awards.

Nashville Public Television’s A Word on Words received an award in the Interstitial category at the 31st Annual Midsouth Regional Emmy Awards on January 21, 2017, at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville. Statuettes went to producer Linda Wei; photographer Will Pedigo; editor Matthew Emigh; hosts J.T. Ellison and Mary Laura Philpott; and executive producer Beth Curley.

NPT productions went into the awards with 4 nominations.

Also during the awards ceremony, NPT producer Ken Simington was posthumously inducted into the Silver Circle with a video tribute and an acceptance speech by Joe Elmore, host of NPT’s popular Tennessee Crossroads magazine program. Simington, who died in August of last year, was the longtime executive producer of Tennessee Crossroads. The Silver Circle honors those with at least 25 years of service to the television industry and who have made a significant contribution to the community and to Midsouth television.

NPT would also like to congratulate our friends and partners on their Emmy wins, including Todd Squared (Bluegrass Underground; Nitty Gritty Dirt Band & Friends – Fifty Years, Circlin’ Back!); BoneSteel Films and Concentrix Music (America’s First Forest: Carl Schenck and The Asheville Experiment).

For a full list of winners please visit the NATAS-Nashville Chapter website at