UTC Special Collections Wins Federal Grant to Process Dr. Tommie Brown’s Personal Papers

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Dr. Tommie Brown speaking before the Tennessee State Legislature (photo undated). Photo courtesy of University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Special Collections

CHATTANOOGA—A $144,049 grant has been awarded to University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Special Collections by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) to process the papers of Dr. Tommie Brown, a former UTC professor, department head and state legislator.

Brown, who donated her papers to Special Collections in March 2023, was a professor of social work at UTC from 1971-1998 and a Democratic legislator in the Tennessee House of Representatives from 1992-2012. She created the social work program at UTC and, in 1980, became the first Black woman to head an academic department at the University.

According to Carolyn Runyon, assistant head of collection services for the UTC Library and director of Special Collections, this is the first large-scale federal grant the library has received since she came to UTC in 2013.

“I’m excited the federal granting agency saw how important this collection is,” Runyon said. “It’s nice to have that external recognition.”

She said to win the award, the papers needed to be approved by an anonymous peer review, the NHPRC and the Archivist of the United States.

Brown’s papers, which are kept in individual boxes, stretch up to about 125 feet—all of which need to be processed. The grant, Runyon said, will pay for a full-time professional archivist, a student assistant, acid-free boxes, folders to protect the materials and additional equipment.

Runyon explained what acquiring Brown’s papers means to the UTC community and those who will one day be able to view the documents.

“Even though she’s long retired from public service, when I think about her work here on campus and in the community, she has been an outstanding mentor—especially in the Black community in Chattanooga,” Runyon said.

Runyon also acknowledged the broader impact of the NHPRC award and how it will help the library’s mission to preserve history.

“It is recognition, not only of the significance of her papers, but that Special Collections can responsibly and ethically curate and steward these materials,” she said.