Portal:Tennessee

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Map of Tennessee

Tennessee is a state located in the Southern United States. Tennessee borders eight other states: Kentucky and Virginia to the north; North Carolina to the east; Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi on the south; and Arkansas and Missouri on the Mississippi River to the west.

Tennessee attained statehood in 1796, becoming the sixteenth state to join the Union.

The state is divided geographically and by law into three Grand Divisions: East Tennessee, Middle Tennessee, and West Tennessee. Physiographically, East Tennessee includes the Blue Ridge area characterized by high mountains, including the Great Smoky Mountains and the Ridge and Valley region, in which numerous tributaries join to form the Tennessee River in the Tennessee Valley. The state's third- and fourth-largest cities, Knoxville and Chattanooga, are located in the Tennessee Valley.

To the west of East Tennessee lies the Cumberland Plateau, a region of flat-topped mountains separated by sharp valleys. West of the Cumberland Plateau in Middle Tennessee is the Highland Rim, an elevated plain that surrounds the Nashville Basin, characterized by rich, fertile farm country and high natural wildlife diversity. Nashville, the state's capital and second largest city, is in Middle Tennessee.

The landscape of West Tennessee is formed on the Gulf Coastal Plain, ranging from rolling hills just west of the Tennessee River to the region of lowlands, floodplains, and swamp land referred to as the Mississippi Delta region. Memphis, Tennessee's largest city, is on the banks of the Mississippi River in the southwestern corner of the state.

Tennessee is known as the "Volunteer State", a nickname earned during the War of 1812 because of the prominent role played by volunteer soldiers from Tennessee.

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The Scopes Trial (Scopes v. State, 152 Tenn. 424, 278 S.W. 57 (Tenn. 1925), often called the "Scopes Monkey Trial") was a legal case that tested a law that forbade the teaching of evolution in any state-funded educational establishment in Tennessee. The case was a watershed in the creation-evolution controversy.

John Scopes, a high school teacher, was charged on May 5, 1925, with teaching evolution from a chapter in a textbook which showed ideas developed from those set out in Charles Darwin's book The Origin of Species. This was a violation of the Butler Act, passed by the Tennessee General Assembly and signed into law earlier that year. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had offered to defend anyone accused of teaching the theory of evolution in defiance of the Butler Act, and local businessmen in Dayton, Tennessee recruited Scopes to test the law with the expectation that the trial would give Dayton much publicity. The trial pitted two of the preeminent legal minds of the time against one another. William Jennings Bryan headed up the prosecution, while Clarence Darrow spoke for the defense.

The trial, held in the Rhea County Courthouse in Dayton, then a town of 1,800, brought world-wide news media attention to small-town Tennessee.

The trial jury found Scopes guilty. In 1927 his conviction was overturned on a technicality by the Tennessee Supreme Court, but the court found the Butler Act to be constitutional. The statute remained on the books until 1967, when it was repealed by the state legislature.

The famous trial formed the basis for fictionalized accounts in the 1955 play Inherit the Wind, a 1960 Hollywood motion picture, and 1965, 1988 and 1999 television films of the same name. (Read more...)

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Alvin York, born to an impoverished farming family in Fentress County, Tennessee on December 13, 1887, became the most decorated American soldier in World War I. For leading an attack against a German machine gun nest during fighting in France, killing 25 German soldiers and capturing 132 others, he was awarded the U.S. Medal of Honor, the French Croix de Guerre and Legion of Honor, Italy's Croce di Guerra, and a War Medal from Montenegro.

When he was first drafted into the United States Army in 1917, York was a conscientious objector who opposed war on religious grounds. However, eventually he became convinced that warfare could be justified.

His heroic actions occurred during a mission to secure a German railroad line on October 8, 1918. York was one of 17 men who infiltrated behind enemy lines and overran the headquarters of a German unit, capturing a large group of German prisoners. The American unit then came under heavy machine gun fire, killing six of the Americans and wounding three others, including the sergeant in command. York, a corporal, took command of the other seven remaining men and succeeded in silencing the machine guns while continuing to guard the prisoners. By the end of the engagement, York and his seven men marched 132 German prisoners back to the American lines. York was promoted to sergeant and was awarded several medals for his heroism. (Read more...)

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Highway directional sign in Crossville, photographed in 1937. It helped travelers find their way to other Tennessee cities and towns.
Image credit: Ben Shahn (1937)

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