James and Ethel Beck were influential Tennessee citizens


James and Ethel Beck
Date: 
Fri, 1881-02-25

*The lives of James Garfield Beck and Ethel Benson Beck from 1881 are celebrated on this date. They were African American 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 Black postal clerk in Tennessee when the Knoxville Post Office hired him. They were two of the most glamorous and influential members of Knoxville's black community during the 1920s, '30s, and '40s. Ethel and James Beck were in the forefront of Black 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 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 active with the Order of Eastern Star and served as Honored Grand Conductress for eight years. She was president of the Tennessee State Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers. The Beck Cultural Exchange Center in Knoxville is also named for the Becks. James died in 1969 and one she died one year later.

Reference:
The Knowville News Sentinel
2332 News Sentinel Drive
Knoxville, TN 37921-5761

Person / name: 

Beck, James and Ethel