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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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Sequoyah (about 1767 - about 1843), also known as George Guess, Guest or Gist, was a Cherokee who invented the Cherokee syllabary, thus earning him a place on the list of inventors of writing systems.

The exact place and date of Sequoyah's birth are unknown, since no written record exists. However, James Mooney, a prominent anthropologist and historian of the Cherokee people, quoted a cousin in saying that Sequoyah spent his early years with his mother in the Overhill Cherokee village of Tuskegee, Tennessee. His mother, Wut-teh, is known to have been a Cherokee. Mooney states that she was the niece of a tribal chief. Sequoyah's father was either white or part-white and part Native American.

Some time before 1809, Sequoyah moved to the Willstown settlement in Alabama and established his trade as a silversmith. As a silversmith, he dealt regularly with white settlers in the area. Native Americans were often impressed by the writing used by white settlers, referring to their correspondence as "talking leaves."

Around 1809, Sequoyah began to create a system of writing for the Cherokee language. After attempting to create a character for each word, Sequoyah decided to divide each word into syllables and create one character for each syllable. Utilizing the Roman alphabet and possibly the Cyrillic alphabet, he created 86 characters to represent the various syllables. This work took Sequoyah 12 years to complete.

At first, his fellow Cherokee doubted the value of his syllabary. In order to prove his creation, Sequoyah taught his daughter Ah-yo-ka how to read and write in Cherokee. After amazing locals with his new writing, Sequoyah attempted to display his feat to tribal medicine men who rebuffed him for being possessed by evil spirits. Sequoyah finally proved his feat to a gathering of Chickamaugan warriors. Quickly news of the syllabary spread and the Cherokee were filling schools in order to learn the new written language. By 1823 the syllabary was in full use by the Cherokee Nation. The writing system was made official by the Cherokee Nation in 1825. From 1828 to 1834 the language was used in the Cherokee Phoenix which represented the Cherokee Nation. It is still used today by many Cherokee speakers. (Read more...)

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Solar eclipse totality with surrounding corona at Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville, Tennessee, United States; the TTU scoreboard logo is at the lower left.
Image credit: Brian Stansberry (2017)

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