The Legacy of the Gillem Generals:
Fisk University: 1000 17th Ave North, Nashville, TN 37208
Fort Gillem (1862-1865) – A Union U.S. Civil War Fort established in 1862 in present day Nashville, Davidson County, Tennessee. Named Fort Gillem after Union Brigadier General Alvan C. Gillem*, who supervised construction of the fort. Renamed Fort Sill in 1863 probably after Brigadier General Joshua W. Sill, who was killed on 31 Dec 1862 at the Battle of Stone’s River. The fort was abandoned by Union troops in 1865 after the end of the war. – fortwiki.com
The “Fisk Free Colored School” was started in 1866 in the abandoned former military hospital barracks (aka Railroad Hospital) located on 12th Street, becoming Fisk University in 1867. One of the original barracks, relocated in 1873, has been used by the university’s performing arts department since 1935, known as the “Little Theatre”.
This is Civil Rights story that seems to have gone unnoticed, at least in it’s broader scope. The connection from the American Civil War to WWII and Fisk University is remarkable:
* It is ironic that his son Lt. General Alvan Cullom Gillem, Jr. would chair the Board for Utilization of Negro Manpower (1945-1946) “to introduce equal opportunity, as that would be the best use of military manpower”. World War II opended up many opportunities for African Americans. General Gillem may have been one of the most powerful players in the early Civil Rights movement.
- Recommendations by the Board for Utilization of Negro Manpower:
- The number of black enlisted men should meet a quota of at least 10% of the Army’s size. This would be proportional to the national population.
- Black troops would serve in all-black platoons or companies that would be integrated into all-white battalions. This would be done to share experience and knowledge, which would improve unit quality.
- Black enlisted men who were qualified should attend specialty and technical schools.
- Black commissioned officers would be promoted by the same standards as their white counterparts.
Both Gillem’s were from Gainesboro, Tennessee. The III was born on a military base in Arizona. Lieutenant General Alvan C. Gillem III was the third generation of Gillem generals. He was a fighter pilot in WWII and commanded the 8th Air Force, among many other duties.
Note: get the virtual tour full screen experience by clicking the icon in the lower left of the video frame. A zoom option is available also for reading the historical signage. Some markers are embedded in the floating icons.