Civil rights activist Avon Rollins hosts a radio show in Knoxville

Knoxville, Tenn. (WVLT) – The former executive director of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center has been recognized for Black History Month. Avon Rollins was a civil rights activist, who marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was also known for his contributions to Knoxville.

Among the thousands of artifacts in the Beck Cultural Exchange Center’s collection are reel-to-reel recordings of the Rollins radio show called “In Touch, Insight” which he hosted on WJBE in 1969.

In Touch, Insight was a program where Rollins spoke about important issues facing the black community. Rollins spoke on a variety of topics, including poor schooling conditions and police brutality.

Renee Kesler, president of the Beck Center, said Rollins was one of the main reasons the Beck Center exists today.

“I think there’s something great about hearing the voice of someone who is no longer with us first, but also what they were feeling and what they were thinking. What was happening at that time. He stayed here at Beck until his last days. It’s a testament to a lot of what we have here,” Kesler said.

During that particular 1969 radio broadcast, Rollins shared Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s final speech in Memphis, Tennessee. At the end of the show, he suggests Austin-East High School change its name to honor Dr. King.

Later, the street on which Austin-East High School is located would become Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Rollins died in 2016 at the age of 75. Episodes of Avon Rollins’ In Touch, Insight have now been digitized from the original reel-to-reel tape.

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