Letters from student victims to their principal after elementary school bombing uncovered after 63 years

Anne Holt's Tennessee

(WKRN) — They have never been seen by the public until now, half-century-old letters written by children who lived through the bombing of Hattie Cotton Elementary School in 1957.

“Dear Miss Cate. We all feel very sad about what happened to the school.”

The thoughts from the youngest victims of Nashville school desegregation. There are 30 letters written by fifth and sixth graders to their principal Margaret Cate. The letter-writing exercise gave the children an outlet to express what they may have been holding inside.

“Monday night at 12:34 a.m., two men threw about 50 sticks of dynamite into the side door.”

Ten-year-old Larry Eugene Norris wrote about the impact of a dynamite explosion in his school.

“It blew the whole thing up.”

Dianne Frye lived down the street from Hattie Cotton School, 393 students attended school there.

“Dear Miss Cate. The night of the explosion, we were all in bed. It scared us all.”

The task of healing and moving forward fell to Cate.

“It’s a mess. They had the police and fire department over there. All the teachers were sad.”

Andrea Blackman with Nashville Public Library says Cate’s goal was to make sure the school was rebuilt the exact way that it was.

“The east wing of the school was the only part that was bombed,” said Blackman, “We know the bomb happened the first week of September in 1957 and according to these letters from these students, they were back in school ten days later.”

“Dear Miss Cate. We all know what a strain you have been under, but now that they are fixing our school I feel much better.”

“It is so evident looking through these letters that these kids thought they could love themselves, using their school pride to love through anything,” said Blackman.

“Things may happen to the school, but nothing can happen to our love for the school.”

Those letters are part of the Margaret Cate-Hattie Cotton Bombing Collection at the Nashville Public Library. Also included are legal forms like affidavits, arrest records, letters of support, and the plan for Nashville to go forward with desegregation after the bombing. It’s all open to the public.

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