Rev. Harold Middlebrook, right, poses with JB Smiley Jr. Smiley is a Memphis City Councilmember and gubernatorial candidate.
Rev. Harold Middlebrook, a beloved Knoxville minister who was an icon of the civil rights movement, turned 80 earlier this month and his friends and family threw him a party. Daughter LaKenya Middlebrook, the city of Knoxville’s community safety director, was point person.
Held on a Saturday night at the Crowne Plaza in downtown Knoxville, it turned out to be terrific. We were lucky enough to be invited, but what, we wondered, would be an appropriate birthday gift? Wine was out, of course. And we didn’t want to buy clothes or anything too personal. We weren’t sure what books he’d already read. Hmm.
We were stumped, but we finally found a great solution. More on that later.
Rev. Middlebrook is a longtime friend of mine. I covered him when I came to Knoxville as a newspaper reporter in the early ’80s and I’ve been honored to serve with him for many years on the board of the Knoxville Area Urban League. He is wise and he is kind. He’s also generous with his time, and he puts a lot of effort into making Knoxville — and the country — a better place. Right now, he is a little disappointed, as he expressed in this article that ran last year in the News Sentinel.
Folks from all walks of life attended his birthday party — even a gubernatorial candidate. They ranged in age from toddlers to folks as old as the minister himself.
Rev. Harold Middlebrook, right, poses with Gene Thomas, program director for WJBE.
LaKenya Middlebrook making welcoming remarks.
Rev. Middlebrook and his wife, Betty, in the seats of honor!
State Rep. Sam McKenzie and Knoxville City Councilmember Gwen McKenzie.
Rev. Middlebrook, center, with former Knoxville Mayor Daniel Brown and his wife, Cathy.
Rev. John Jordan and former Knox County Commissioner Diane Jordan.
From left, KeEricka Houston, Porsha and Harold Middlebrook III, and Harold Middlebrook II.
MarQuavis Dottery Dukes with Betty Middlebrook.
LaKenya Middlebrook, left, with Gordon and Judy Gibson.
Former Knox County Commissioner Thomas “Tank” Strickland, seated, with Alan Carmichael.
Terry Strickland, left, with Katherine McDuffey.
The music was fantastic with Will Boyd on sax.
And Shawn Turner (keys/voice), Alonzo Lewis (drums), David Slack (bass) and, not pictured, Brandon Whitaker (guitar).
Gail Carter with JB Smiley Jr.
From left, Wes Knott, Cameron Brooks and Jim Jennings.
Rev. Woodrow Harris from Antioch, Tennessee, congratulated Rev. Middlebrook and led everyone in a prayer.
Rev. Mildred Smith and Rev. Joseph Smith.
Carol White, left, and Donna Oliver.
Rev. Sam Brown, president of the local NAACP, with Beverly McDuffey-Ward.
Marsha and Lincoln Barton.
Jacqueline Jones, left, and Edith Fleet.
From left, Hubert Smith, Rev. Middlebrook and Charles Lomax.
Gwenetta and Rev. J.W. Dukes Jr.
Gwen McKenzie, left, and Gail Carter.
Diane Jordan and Steve Diggs.
Alicia Lewis holding Jenesis.
And now that you see how much fun the party was, would you like to know the perfect birthday gift we found for Rev. Middlebrook? I was browsing at one of our favorite downtown shops, The Tree & Vine, and it popped right out at me. The store carries a slew of award-winning barbecue sauces and rubs. And guess the brand name of one of the most popular collections!
“Holy Smoke!” Perfect, don’t you think? It was divine intervention! Produced right in nearby New Market, Tennessee. We grabbed one of everything!