The Frank and Jane West Virginia Folklife Center will be hosting Ilene Evans portraying Memphis Tennessee Garrison at 7 p.m. on Monday, October 28. This event is free and open to the public.
Evans will portray Memphis Tennessee Garrison, who was a teacher and civil rights activist. She was born a Carter in Hollins, Virginia. Her father was a former slave who became a coalminer. They moved to McDowell County when she was young. She married Mr. William Melvin Garrison of Gary, McDowell County. After graduating from Bluefield State College in 1939, she went on to teach in McDowell County schools for 35 years. There Garrison fought for better learning and cultural opportunities for African-Americans.
She also served as a welfare worker for the United States Steel Company in its company town, Gary. By doing this she provided counseling to black miners and their families, helped settle racial disputes, and developed cultural and recreational opportunities for residents in the area. She helped to develop and sustain chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in southern West Virginia. She became the first woman elected as vice president of the NAACP board at the national level.
After she retired from the McDowell County School System, she moved to Huntington. Garrison was a remarkable woman who was acquainted with people such as W.E.B. DuBois and Jackie Robinson. In 1988, she received the “Living the Dream Award” from the state of West Virginia which honors a citizen who best exemplifies the principles and goals of Martin Luther King each year. She died at the age of 98 in Huntington. Her home was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2017.
Evans, an adjunct professor in communication at Fairmont State University, performs, teaches, and lectures across the United States as well as overseas. She received her undergraduate degree from Trinity College in Deerfield, Illinois, and studied theater and dance at the University of Wisconsin.
She was a member of the dance collaborative, “Momenta!” as a dancer and choreographer at the Academy of Movement and Music in Oak Park, IL. She later became a part of the staff at the Whirlwind Performance Company as a teaching artist as well as a performer. There she taught African-American cultural arts, storytelling, vocal technique, dance, and choreography. She completed her masters’ degree in education with an emphasis in storytelling at East Tennessee State University.
Ilene is co-founder of Voices from the Earth, a non-profit arts organization, and has served as the president of the West Virginia Storytelling Guild. Ms. Evans has also had the honor of being the featured vocalist and storyteller for Peter and the Wolf with the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra.
The Frank and Jane Gabor WV Folklife Center at Fairmont State University is dedicated to the identification, preservation, and perpetuation of our region’s rich cultural heritage through academic studies, educational programs, festivals and performances, and publications.