Briceville mural is reminder to build the future from the past

It may seem like a culmination — the end all of a tremendous effort, as it were.

But it’s not a culmination. It’s a mural. In an elementary school.

The reason it’s not a culmination is that this tremendous effort is not over. In fact, it hasn’t really begun.

So, let’s forget Gale Hinton and the mural at Briceville Elementary School for a minute and let’s go back to the year 2000.

It has been 19 years since an engineer in Knoxville, with a cozy business and an outlook that told him the world was his for the taking, had his face slapped.


Barry Thacker, engineer and active member of Trout Unlimited, thought it would be a grand idea to study the health of Coal Creek.

For the sake of learning about the health of the trout population in said stream.

“Boy, was that the wrong thing to do,” Thacker said in an interview earlier this summer.

“Here I was going up to this community and I’m wanting to know how the fish were doing,” he laughed.

It wasn’t funny at the time. The late Rev. Roy Daugherty and his wife, Della, made sure this engineer from Knoxville knew what they thought about the so-called health of Coal Creek and it’s trout.

“Here’s Della Daugherty, this close to me face (Thacker holds up thumb and forefinger about an inch apart), and she’s letting me have it,” Thacker said.

“And she was right. Here are people worried about feeding their families, finding work, and I’m up there checking on fish.”

The confrontation proved to be a spark and from that spark came the Coal Creek Watershed Foundation (CCWF).

So, how do you help a community mired in an economic downturn?

How do you break that cycle?

It started with the kids.

“Children are easier to deal with,” Thacker said. “They don’t tell you you’re an idiot, or tell you it can’t be done.”

Children can hope.

When the Coal Creek Watershed Foundation first started it’s CCWF Scholarship Fund it was so far outside the box nobody really understood it.

Kids from Briceville Elementary getting scholarships? Giving back to the community as part of their commitment?

And the real kicker — once a CCWF Scholar, always a CCWF Scholar.

“Things happen in real life,” Thacker said. “A student may get side tracked from gaining their college education.” As a CCWF Scholar the chance to get back to a college education is always open.

The first recipient of that scholarship understood it, and Amy Dugger Crabtree passed the word along to other young students who attended Briceville Elementary School.

The message was pretty simple: You want to get out of Briceville then education is your vehicle.

To date the Coal Creek Watershed Foundation has awarded more than $500,000 in scholarships to students who attended Briceville Elementary School. They have teachers, businessmen and women, nurses, a doctor, an inventor, and a plethora of other occupations.

And every year those scholars come back to the elementary school they started in and tell other students “It can be done.”

There is more than scholarships, however, that Barry Thacker and the Coal Creek Watershed Foundation have brought to Briceville.

It’s an intangible, really, something you can’t put into words, something you can only feel.

The Coal Creek Watershed Foundation gave the students at Briceville Elementary School pride in their heritage.

Briceville was the heart and soul of a thriving mining community in the late 1800s, and early 1900s. Welsh miners settled there and they brought with them a thirst for knowledge and a work ethic like no other. CCWF started showing that story to the students at Briceville, taught them they had a heritage to be proud of.

It’s all been documented: The mining disasters; the strike that brought a war that truly ended slavery in the state of Tennessee; the written words of a long-lost Welsh miner that now rest in an Ivy League school’s library; the middle school curriculum that is now taught state-wide on Briceviile’s role in finally dismantling slavery; the mining reforms brought about by the deaths of so many.

Last week artist Gale Hinton spent two days painting a mural at Briceville Elementary School.

Hinton’s work can be seen in every state in the Union. Her work is in such demand her calendar is full through Christmas. She’s been doing her craft for 55 years and will probably do it another 55 because, “I love it,” she said.

“Every time I paint I treat it like it may be the last one I ever paint,” Hinton said. “Because you never know, it may be.” Hinton was contacted by/connected with CCWF’s Carol Moore because they both went to the same high school and the ran into each other at a reunion.

“When I found out who she was I started begging her to come to Briceville,” Moore said.

CCWF provided the “text” for the mural — a mix of the history of the region — all pointing to vital role Briceville played in the history of not just Anderson County, but of the nation.

And Hinton has, like so many others, bought in to the CCWF mission — she has donated her fees for the project to the Coal Creek watershed Foundation scholarship fund.

The mural may seem like a culmination of a region finding its heritage but it is, in fact, a message the heritage is just a building block and these children’s futures really have no limits.