Formerly known as the Charlie Lemmons Endowment, the Frieson Black Cultural Center Endowment helps the Office of Multicultural Student Life provide additional cultural programming, academic support, diversity workshops, peer mentoring, and leadership development opportunities based out of the Frieson Black Cultural Center.
Ron and Don Frieson are African American identical twins from Memphis who attended UT in the late 1970s. Charlie Lemmons, their grandfather, was a second-generation freed slave born in 1908 in Greenwood, Mississippi.
Established in 1976, the Black Cultural Center was located in a university-owned residence at 812 Volunteer Boulevard, where it operated for more than twenty years. In 2002, the current facility was opened at 1800 Melrose Avenue. In the heart of the campus, it is a vibrant, thriving 13,700-square-foot facility that houses a computer lab, a multipurpose room, and study and gathering spaces for students and the campus community to learn, share ideas, and discuss experiences.
On August 18, 1908, Charlie Lemmons was born to George Lemon, Sr. and Emma McCullough Lemon in Greenwood, Mississippi. He was a second-generation freed slave. His grandparents were slaves and were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. As an energetic and industrious child, he survived the loss of his mother at age ten, and father at age twelve. Charlie cared for his younger brother George Lemons, Jr. and sustained by taking odd jobs at community stores. In his early life he was educated in the public schools of Leflore County, Mississippi.
In his early manhood, he moved to Taylor, Mississippi, where he met and married Vera W. Lockhart on March 5, 1932. To this union five children were born. Charlie and Vera moved to Memphis, Tennessee in 1945. He worked at Firestone Tire and Rubber Company before becoming an International Harvestor employee. During his tenure at Firestone Tire and Rubber the company sustained a closure. Without steady work, Charlie acquired some electrical and plumbing skills and did various odd jobs to provide for this family. He refused to accept any kind of public assistance or charity.
Charlie Lemmons was a natural leader taking on an active role in the labor union that represented workers at International Harvester, as well as being a deacon in his church. He was a very strong advocate of education, making sure that each of his children had an opportunity to attend college. Of his three surviving children, two became public school educators with Master’s degrees, while one is a veteran of the Vietnam War.
Charlie spent a great deal of time with his first grandchildren, twins, Ronald and Donald Frieson, both graduates of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Known to them as `Papa Charlie`, Lemmons provided an endless array of philosophy, practical teachings and wisdom that shaped their lives. Any level of perceived success is directly credited to those early teachings and mentoring provided by what the twins believe is “the smartest man we’ve ever known”. Ronald Frieson, founder of the Charlie Lemmons Endowment, believes this a good way to preserve the memory of such an incredible individual, while also spreading the impact of his legacy. It is his desire to share with others, the benefits of a life well lived.
To support the Frieson Black Cultural Center Endowment, please use this link to submit your generous donation.