photo by Audrey Berns

Where are they now: Franklin McCallie

September 7, 2017

In a way, he grew up in a colorless world as a white, high-privileged male. The only colors he ever saw were red and blue on the confederate flag, reflecting his family’s history and aiding his father’s vision of an all-white society. His last name is strewn on signs and buildings all over town. He now stands over 6 feet tall, yet not above anyone he ever meets. It wasn’t until he grew into an adult that he realized and finally understood, just by one interaction, that the world needed to progress.

“I was raised racist in the south in Chattanooga, Tennessee,” Franklin McCallie, former KHS principal, said. “[I was] waving the confederate flag, using the N-word, things such as that. Which I am not proud of. When I was 20 years old I had an epiphany experience meeting two black college students, and that changed my life.”

This interaction, in which the black students told McCallie that even after the work of African Americans who fought with the U.S., specifically in World War II, that they still had to ride the bus two miles to find a place that would serve them food, sparked a change for McCallie. He realized the whole foundation of his childhood values was wrong. He realized, just by hearing two voices recall the sufferings of a whole race of people, that he would no longer witness the inequality. He would make a difference.

“I said to [my father], ‘I’m ready to teach at McCallie [schools], but you’ve gotta integrate,’” Franklin said. “He said, ‘We can’t integrate.’ It was 1968. So I went to an all-black public high school, I taught there and learned a tremendous amount. What I learned is, some of my black kids, some of the smartest kids I’ve taught in my life, they were living in in the south, [under] such inequality, in their schools and in their neighborhoods. Both my wife and I decided to do something about that.”

In 1979, McCallie had an interview for a job at KHS. He recalled that just in the interview, he could easily tell there were racial issues in St. Louis, just as there were in the south.

“I realized that they were having a problem in Kirkwood,” Franklin said. “As a matter of fact, when I said, ‘Something’s wrong,’ (in the interview) they said, ‘The administration has been accused of giving more discipline to black kids for the same offense then they give to white kids,’ and the superintendent said, ‘Can you solve our problem?’ And I said to them, ‘I can.’ We started working on interracial togetherness every single day, for 22 years.”

We started working on interracial togetherness every single day, for 22 years.”

— Franklin McCallie

Franklin retired from education in 2001, then returned to his hometown of Chattanooga with his wife, Tresa, into their newly remodeled home in May 2013. Back at home, on Aug. 1, 2013, Franklin, Tresa and their cousins finally formed a group to make a difference in their community: Chattanooga Connected.

“We would go to white events [in Chattanooga] and there would be hardly any blacks,” Tresa said. “We would go to black events and we would be the only whites. We started brainstorming on what we could do to change the culture, so that black people and white people could get to know each other because you can’t become friends [or] trust each other unless you know each other. [Then we started] having dessert conversations in our home. [There were both 15 blacks and whites at our first meeting] and we talked about what our goals were: just to get to know each other, to start bridging the gap. That [was] the beginning of Chattanooga Connected.”

After that first meeting, Chattanooga Connected continued to grow not only in numbers, but also diversity. Franklin said they have had 22 meetings so far with over 400 people who attend regularly, but a total of over 1,000 different people.

“I still have white males my age saying, ‘Franklin, what do I say to a black person?’” Franklin said. “And I say, ‘I say, hi I’m Franklin McCallie, who and how are you?’ We’ve still got people that are afraid, certainly adults in the white society in the south. They just don’t know each other. So they come into our house and everybody gathers in the kitchen. The kitchen is the great leveler.”

April Maldonado, Robinson Elementary School art teacher and KHS track and field coach, recently visited the McCallies in their home with fellow coaches. She said she is truly amazed by their work and dedication to integrating the community.

“When I think of people that live generously I think of them and how much they have,” Maldonado said. “Whether it’s giving up [their] time [or their] home. It’s really who they are.”

Maldonado said she was amazed by the design and openness of their home when she visited. The McCallie’s hired a white architect to design their home, along with a black contractor. Tresa said  the location of the home was really important to them in terms of reconnecting with the community.

“We wanted to live in a real urban setting,” Tresa said. “We found a house that was dilapidated. It hadn’t been lived in for several years. We liked the neighborhood because it was well-integrated, racially and economically and internationally, so we [had an all-black crew take] down this house to the studs, rebuild it [and tear up walls to make open space].”photo by Audrey Berns

Over a decade after Franklin’s altercation with his father over integration in schools, his father finally changed his viewpoint. Just by seeing his son as the only white person at a black march.

“It took almost 20 years,” Franklin said, getting emotional. “But my father came up to me, hugged me and said ‘I’m sorry,’ and for the next 30 years, until he was 92, he fought for equality.”

Tresa remarked on her husband’s persistency, which has gotten them this far into making a difference. She described him as humble yet willing to fight for what he believes in.

“[Franklin] is one of the most courageous, passionate, people I’ve ever known,” Tresa said, as Franklin began to tear up again. “He is a remarkable man, and he never meets a stranger. He’s really quite amazing. After 54 years of marriage [I think] I know him pretty well.”

Franklin and Tresa both said being involved in Chattanooga Connected has truly made a difference in their lives and they hope it has impacted others just as much. Franklin recalled after they got so many phone calls after their CBS feature that they had to make a website: chattanoogaconnected.com to further reach out to communities.

“What we’re doing adds so much meaning to our lives,” Tresa said. “It doesn’t take a lot to reach out to somebody else that’s a little different in different ways. Until we start reaching out to other people, I don’t think we’re going to have the world we’ll all want to live in and raise our children in.”

art by Cate McCandless

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Where are they now: Franklin McCallie