Honoring Black History: Herb Greenlee’s impact in the Tri-Cities

Black History Month

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) News Channel 11 and ABC Tri-Cities is honoring the impact of African-Americans in the Tri-Cities this Black History Month.

On this first day of Black History Month, Pheben Kassahun highlights Johnson City native, Kenneth “Herb” Greenlee.

Carver Recreation Center director, Herb Greenlee said, “I wanted to be there and make an impact on our community with kids that don’t have a direction.”

Early on, Johnson City native, Herb Greenlee knew the role that education plays in a child’s success.

Greenlee said, “Not standing around and do nothing. Be educated. Get you a good job, and come back and put something back into the community. That’s what I hope. I had somebody that helped me. I had plenty of mentors.”

Greenlee attended segregated schools until 1965, when a federal judge ordered all city schools to desegregate schools in a matter of months.

He added, “In the segregated school, you had teachers that thought more of you because if you got out of line, wasn’t doing the class work, your parents would know about it in a heartbeat. Going to an integrated school was a little bit different. It seemed like nobody cared.”

Greenlee graduated from Science Hill High School in 1973 and began his quest to improve the life of the youth in his hometown through education. He got into the Johnson City Schools system as a security guard for Liberty Bell Middle School.

“He’s just an all around wonderful person,” former Johnson City-Washington County NAACP president, Jean Neal told Kassahun.

Jean Neal described Greenlee as a pillar in the Johnson City community.

“What I like about him is- it’s just not the black community he is concerned about, which is his first concern, but he also likes to include everybody,” she added.

“Make it not segregated, but integrated. More integrated than anything because we attract a lot of different people. The Asians, the Latinos, the Africans and plus the blacks, and the whites,” Greenlee said.

Neal told Kassahun that when Greenlee was called onto the Carver Rec Center in 1987, he made drastic changes in the way it functioned for the community starting with tutoring those who struggled in school.

“Provides everything that we need. He also does that with every organization in the community. He’s helped the NAACP. We’ve had things down there he has supported,” she said.

Greenlee said, “Everybody came to Carver for some type of program, whether it was an athletic, whether it was a program of educational program or stuff like that and we honored all of our seasonal stuff like Martin Luther King programs, Black History Month, Easter. We have a program where we honor people through awards. We have a program now where we have and honor people where we have the Carver Wall of Fame.”

His dedication to education continues, as last year, Greenlee was elected to the Johnson City Board of Education.

“That’s why he ran so many times for the school board and it’s mostly to make sure that the kids get everything that they are entitled to,” Neal said.

He has proven that his resilience and passion for kids in his community never failed.

Greenlee said, “Give them a direction whether it’s in technology or going to college or doing something because we do have a scholarship here. In the director before me, Will Melvin Stephen Scholarship. We honor Melvin Stephens by giving out scholarships out for kids that want to continue their education and that’s important.”

We invite you to join us every Monday through the month of February as we deliver reports honoring Black history right here on News Channel 11 at 7 p.m.

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