Rutherford County provided more than 4,000 men for active service in World War II. One of those men who served was my father, Richard Claude Shacklett.
In this photo taken in the early 1940s, a dilapidated area known as the "Bottom" can be seen near the Rutherford County Courthouse, located on the Square, in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (Photo courtesy of Shacklett Photography)
The circumstances surrounding war times had brought two very different people together from opposite ends of the country. On Feb. 20, 1944, my father and mother, Virginia “Ginny” Ruth Allen married in Twin Falls, Idaho, my mother’s hometown. After the wedding, they came to Murfreesboro to meet my dad’s family.
According to my mother, getting married allowed a sense of normalcy to occur in the midst of those turbulent times. Although most families of that era had their lives disrupted by the war, everyone was united in an effort to defeat fascism.
Going home was merely a state of mind for most soldiers. However, my parents were fortunate enough to actually return to Murfreesboro before my dad was assigned to Hobbs, New Mexico, where he would serve as a military photographer amid the highly sensitive initiatives surrounding the development of the atomic bomb.
The following is a compilation gathered from the recollections of relatives and from my mother’s first impressions of Murfreesboro when she first arrived here.
Weary from their 2,500-mile train trip across the country that concluded with a one-hour bus ride from Nashville to Murfreesboro, “Shack,” as she called him, and my mother arrived in town. They were greeted enthusiastically by my dad’s brother Bob. Ginny, then 19 years old, had been somewhat stunned by her new brother-in-law’s unabashed Southern-style greeting – a big kiss right on the mouth.
As they drove southward, they passed what appeared to be an undertaker’s house. Sprawling for the next couple of blocks south of the Square was the, “Bottom.” The Bottom was so named because the land slumped into a lower elevation than the surrounding area. Apparently, this area was muddy from frequent flooding.
Astonished and dismayed, observing the scanty dwellings, Ginny could not help but express her shock at the deplorable conditions, “Shack, are people really living in those houses?”
“Yes, dear, this is one place that folks have been trying to help for years. I don’t know what it’s going to take to get people out of such poverty,” my father said, as they drove past a makeshift neighborhood of dilapidated, overcrowded dwellings.
As they approached the hill on South Church Street to turn into the Shacklett home, Ginny noticed something else unfamiliar and new – chickens in the front yard of the house.
Agasp, she remarked, “Shack, why are there chickens in your front yard?”
“I told you we were Tennessee hillbillies, and that’s the truth. We’re probably gonna’ eat one of those birds for breakfast with some hot biscuits,” Shack chuckled, knowing this was also something different for his wife.
But, Shack was far from a typical Tennessee hillbilly.
Although the high poster beds and ceilings were imposing, my mother told me that she was awestruck by the Shacklett family humility, hospitality and grace.
True to his word, the first breakfast with her new family was fried chicken and corn with piping hot biscuits, a real Southern treat only served on special occasions in those days.
Sixty-seven years have passed since my mother’s first visit to Murfreesboro.
Although her memory was a bit sketchy before her death in 2005, she still vividly recalled how the Shackletts lovingly welcomed and embraced her into the family, validating the tradition of true Southern hospitality. The memory of their warmth and love comforted an anxious, young woman in an unfamiliar place and an uncertain time.
Like my parents, many of those from the Greatest Generation are influenced by memories of that time.
After the war, it was a time dedicated to drastic change for our country. At no other moment in the history had so many Americans been displaced by world events.
Of those who returned from the experience of this war, many came home with a deepened determination to make their communities better.
Such was the case here in Murfreesboro.
War-weary soldiers returned with a sense of resolve and urgency to eradicate poverty, including one particualr eyesore, Bottom.
Finally, in the early 1950s, through the efforts of many, the Bottom was eliminated by urban renewal projects, which created Broad Street.
A brand new Murfreesboro City Hall on Broad Street was constructed on the site where the Bottom had been. My grandmother, Nena Shacklett, who worked as a social worker, finally had an office in City Hall, where many individuals in the community could get the help and support they needed.
As for my mother’s impressions, she reminded me that all over this country, families were displaced, yet it was for the better. By blending cultures and families, new friendships and bonds were created that lasted a lifetime.
Such was the case for my family and as she reminded me, “You would not be here if it weren’t for the war.”
Then she continued, “And I’m glad that it happened the way it did. I would not have known so many wonderful people – family and friends here in Murfreesboro.”