Hattie Cotton Bombing History

New Book Remembers Hattie Cotton School Bombing Through Eyes of Former Teacher
Posted on 05/08/2024
Image of book about Hattie Cotton bombing and plaque

Hattie Cotton book and plaque

The image of a white elementary school principal helping a young Black girl get home through an angry mob on the day she integrated her school – and just hours before it was blown to pieces – made Stephen MacKenzie want to write a book.

It helped that his wife had been a teacher at the school during those extremely trying days. MaryAnne (Bruce) MacKenzie and Stephen MacKenzie

MacKenzie’s new book, told through the eyes of his wife, MaryAnne (Bruce) MacKenzie, got a one-of-a-kind launch party Tuesday morning at Hattie Cotton STEM Magnet Elementary School, the East Nashville school that was firebombed in September 1957, MaryAnne’s first year as a teacher there. She is the last surviving member of the faculty from that time.

The book, “Hattie Cotton School: The last teacher’s first-hand experiences of the 1957 bombing and aftermath,” was published by Nashville-based Premium Press America.

“It has been an experience I will never forget,” Stephen MacKenzie said, recalling many hours of research and photocopying at Nashville Public Library, which displayed historic photos and documents at Tuesday's event.

The event, which included the unveiling of a plaque donated to Hattie Cotton by the New Hampshire-based MacKenzies, was attended by Lenora Cassell, granddaughter of the late Patricia Watson, the Black student who integrated Hattie Cotton by herself in 1957. Also on hand were three relatives of the late Margaret Cate, the principal who helped Watson get home on her first day and then led Hattie Cotton through its rebuilding process, and Lajuanda Street-Harley, one of the students who integrated nearby Glenn School that same year as Nashville slowly began to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision. Street-Harley

“We should tell our history,” Street-Harley said. “I’m guilty, too. For the longest time, my children had no idea this went on. If you don’t know your history, you are doomed to repeat it.”

Street-Harley, who taught English, speech, and drama in Metro Nashville Public Schools for 27 years and retired from Glencliff High School, recalled being a little girl who was eager to go to school in her purple-and-lilac dress and patent leather shoes, not knowing anyone would be upset by her actions.

“I thought everyone went to school in a parade,” she said.

A historic photo of Street-Harley's father walking her and a friend to school is on the cover of the new book.

“We published the book to memorialize the horrific event and honor Principal Margaret Cate,” MaryAnne MacKenzie said, “and all those who helped guide students, faculty, and the surrounding community through the devastation and the difficult period that followed.”

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Nashville History,Civil Rights Movement