James and Ethel Beck were influential Tennessee citizen's
James and Ethel Beck
The lives of James Garfield Beck
and Ethel Benson Beck from 1881
are celebrated on this date.
They were African-American color
educators and entrepreneurs.
James Garfield Beck was born
in 1881 and Ethel Benson
Beck was born in 1896.
He came to Knoxville in 1898 from Camden ,
Alabama , to attend the Knoxville College
Normal School , which he finished in 1902.
He was graduated from Knoxville College in 1906.
In college, Beck distinguished himself in several
sports, and he was particularly good in baseball.
After graduation, he taught at several
schools, including Austin High in 1910.
He also served as the first athletic
director at Knoxville College .
Mrs. Beck was a native of Morristown , Tennessee , and
received her early training at Morristown College .
It is possible that the Becks first met when he
played baseball against the Morristown team.
They were married in 1913, the same year he
became the first African-American color postal clerk in
Tennessee when the Knoxville Post Office hired him.
They were two of the most glamorous
and influential members of Knoxville's
African-American color community
during the 1920s, '30s, and '40s.
Ethel and James Beck were in the
forefront of African-American color
civic, church, and social activities.
They were extremely attractive,
had money, and were athletic.
Beck was an intellectual, while
his wife had a business mind.
Over the years, they collected
a fortune in real estate.
The Becks were involved in the establishment
of the Knoxville Colored color Orphanage in 1919.
That summer a popular subscription raised
about $7,500 and property near Knoxville
College was purchased for the project.
After several months, Ethel Beck
was elected to head the board.
Within two years, she announced that
she intended to build a first-class brick
building to cost approximately $10,000.
She made good on that promise,
and by 1941 the name of the
orphanage was changed to the
Ethel Beck Home For Children.
Being a sports enthusiast, she played in a national
tennis meet in Bordentown , New Jersey , in 1928.
She was the superintendent of the playground
at the popular Cal Johnson Park for four years.
James Beck was a life-long Republican, who
served as a sergeant-at-arms at the 1940
National Republican Convention.
Also he was one of the chief organizers of
the Knoxville Branch NAACP in 1919.
He was a candidate for city council in 1951.
Ethel Beck was president of the Tennessee
State Congress of Colored color Parents and Teachers.
The Beck Cultural Exchange Center in
Knoxville is also named for the Becks.
James died in 1969, one year later Ethel died.