Outstanding 20th Century Tennesseans

List compiled by Dr. Edwin S. Gleaves.

In March of 2006 Dr. Edwin Gleaves, retired State Librarian and Archivist of Tennessee, sought from seven history enthusiasts their choices of twenty-five notable 20th-century Tennesseans every student of Tennessee history should know. Dr. Gleaves compiled the individual lists into a master roster of 31 names for presentation to the Tennessee history class that he was currently teaching at Lipscomb University. We were extremely grateful that he agreed to share this compilation with the NHN.

One of the seven participants was Walter T. Durham, State Historian of Tennessee from 2002-2013 and author of 24 books of local history. Mr. Durham generously agreed to allow us to publish his list separately.

The busy schedules of the list-makers no doubt forced them to make quicker decisions than they might have preferred, and, of course, limiting the size of the list means that many worthy candidates had to be omitted. Nevertheless, the following entries are extremely important, not least because they demonstrate the great diversity of accomplishment in 20th-century Tennessee.

The Compiled List

Category 1: Persons Who Received Seven Nominations

Hull, Cordell (1871-1955: lawyer; judge; U.S. Representative; U.S. Senator; U.S. Secretary of State; recipient of Nobel Peace Prize)

York, Alvin C. (1887-1964: World War I Army hero; supporter of education in the Upper Cumberland region)

Category 2: Persons Who Received Six Nominations

Crump, E. H. “Boss” (1874-1954: Mayor of Memphis; controversial but influential political figure statewide)

Gore, Albert Jr. (b. 1948: U.S. Representative; U.S. Senator; Vice President; presidential candidate; environmentalist; author; teacher)

Haley, Alex (1921-1992: novelist; biographer; author of Roots; largely responsible for popularizing genealogy in this country)

Kefauver, Estes (1903-1963: U.S. Senator; vice-presidential nominee; fought organized crime and segregation)

Category 3: Persons Who Received Five Nominations

Gore, Albert, Sr. (1907-1998: progressive U.S. Congressman and Senator; fought for civil rights legislation; known as the “Father of Medicare”)

Rudolph, Wilma (1940-1994: Olympic medalist; teacher and coach)

Category 4: Persons Who Received Four Nominations

Agee, James (1909-1955: writer and critic; author of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and A Death in the Family)

Dudley, Ann Dallas (1876-1955: state and national leader in the women’s suffrage movement)

Horton, Myles F. (1905-1990: educator; founder and director of the Highlander Folk School and the Highlander Research and Education Center)

Presley, Elvis (1935-1977: singer, entertainer; “The King”)

Ransom, John Crowe (1888-1974: poet, professor; critic; leader of the Fugitives literary movement)

Category 5: Persons Who Received Three Nominations

Acuff, Roy (1903-1992: known as the “King of County Music” because of his long association with the Grand Ole Opry)

Cannon, Sarah Ophelia (1914-1996: Grand Ole Opry’s “Minnie Pearl”; supported and funded cancer research and treatment)

Clement, Frank G. (1920-1969: Governor, 1953-59 and 1963-67; noted speaker)

Giovanni, Nikki (b. 1943: poet; educator; activist)

Handy, W. C. (1873-1958: composer and musician; “Father of the Blues”)

Parton, Dolly (b. 1946: singer, entertainer; founder of the Imagination Library)

Smith, Bessie (1894-1937: nationally prominent blues singer)

Category 6: Persons Who Received Two Nominations

Alexander, Lamar (b. 1940: Governor, 1979-86; President, University of Tennessee; U.S. Secretary of Education; U.S. Senator)

Atkins, Chet (1924-2001: music executive; guitarist par excellence)

Baker, Howard Jr. (1925-2014: U. S. Senator, minority and majority leader; ambassador to Japan; presidential chief of staff)

Foote, Shelby (1916-2005: novelist and historian; best known for his trilogy, The Civil War)

Frist, Thomas F. Sr. (1910-1998: cardiologist and businessman; co-founder of Hospital Corporation of America)

Ingram, Martha (b. 1935: businesswoman; philanthropist; author; patron of the arts)

Lea, Luke (1879-1945: businessman; editor; military officer; financier)

McKellar, Kenneth D. (1869-1957; U.S. Senator; New Deal advocate; active supporter of the Tennessee Valley Authority)

Scopes, John T. (1900-1970: school teacher; focus of trial about teaching evolution in a Tennessee public school)

Taylor, Peter (1917-1994: novelist and short story writer; winner of Pulitzer Prize for A Summons to Memphis)

Warren, Robert Penn (1905-1989: poet; novelist; Pulitzer Prize winner; member of Fugitives group)

Walter Durham’s List

Cordell Hull (secretary of state/Nobel Peace Prize)
Al Gore, Jr. (senator/vice president)
Estes Kefauver (senator/vice-presidential candidate)
Albert Gore, Sr. (senator)
Howard Baker (senator/ambassador)
Lamar Alexander (governor/secretary of education/senator)
E. H. Crump (political boss)
Tom Frist (CEO of HCA)
Alexander Heard (education)
Ralph “Peck” Owen (Equitable/American Express)
Andrew D. Holt (TEA/NEA/UT president)
Fred Smith (founder & CEO of FedEx)
Sergeant Alvin York (war hero)
Jim Sasser (senator/ambassador)
Martha Ingram (business/performing arts)
Elvis Presley (music)
Grace Moore (music/opera)
Wilma Rudolph (Olympic athlete)
Anne Dallas Dudley (women’s voting rights amendment)
Alex Haley (Roots)
James Agee (author)
Ida B. Wells-Barnett (anti-lynching activist)
Myles Horton (educator/political activist)
Dolly Parton (music/philanthropy)

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