JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – East Tennessee State University (ETSU) is accepting design proposals for the fountain outside of the Charles C. Sherrod Library on campus.

The fountain commemorates the first five African American students who integrated what was then called East Tennessee State College in the late 1950s.

The fountain was dedicated to Eugene Caruthers, Elizabeth Watkins Crawford, Clarence McKinney, George L. Nichols and Mary Luellen Owens Wagner during a ceremony in 2013.

Memorial Fountain outside of Charles C Sherrod Library at ETSU: Photo (WJHL)

The current fountain is damaged from the harsh cold snap that occurred this past winter.

There were originally five parts of the fountain’s design that represents the five students. The other parts cracked due to the cold weather.

“There were several components to the fountain that’s sticking up,” Keith Johnson, Vice President of Equity and Inclusion and the Chairman of the Engineering Technology Department at ETSU said. “Currently, you only see two. The other two are cracked and have collapsed down into the water, which we’ve since removed.”

Johnson would like the new design to be more interactive and more informative about the lives of the five students.

“What I want to do is have something that will allow the community to be able to learn what it was like navigating at East Tennessee State University as an African-American student back in the 1950s,” Johnson said.

Plaques of first five African American Students on the wall in Borchuck Plaza outside of Sherrod library: Photo (WJHL)

Johnson said many still don’t know about the five who integrated the college. He would like for the new design to include a QR code, so people can pull up more information about them using their phones.

“For example, Mr. George Nichols, a major thing that he was very proud of when he was a student here was the fact that he was part of the ROTC program,” Johnson said. “He was also a biology student.”

One of the students, Elizabeth Crawford, who now lives in Elizabethton, was at the fountain dedication ceremony in 2013.

“At first, I think we were shocked because it had been so many years in between the time we did this and the time that they recognized us,” Crawford said.

Crawford attended the college for about six months before leaving with her husband who joined the military. Afterward, she started a career in education in the school system.

“I retired after 15 years working for them and then I went back and I worked 10 years as a substitute for the Elizabethton School System,” Crawford said.

Crawford said she didn’t experience many problems while enrolled.

“The professors some of them weren’t really friendly, they did what they had to do for us to teach us and that was it,” Crawford said.

Crawford also added that she and her classmates got passing grades and that they were chosen because of their hard work.

“The thing that I’m most proud about integrating was the fact that behind me came a group of young black people who succeeded,” Crawford said.

Johnson said the fountain is a snapshot of how inclusive ETSU is and how they want to educate everyone not just a select population.

“I want this fountain to be recognized as a community piece where any student can come and congregate and just reflect on what ETSU used to be and where we are now,” Johnson said.

ETSU has set a budget of $225,000 dollars for the new fountain. They are currently raising funds for the project.

The university hopes to have the fountain finished by August 2024. Artists can apply through September 1, 2023.

You can find more information about the proposal and about how to submit a proposal design here.