The question was about as straightforward as they get for Curious Nashville.
The MDHA training center named for Randee Rogers — who was she?
The training center is a red brick lump of a building, located in North Nashville, right across from the old Werthan Packaging building.
The name on it is so small you’d likely miss it if you weren’t looking for it.
But the woman behind the name is worth knowing: Randee Rogers, a community organizer with the city’s housing agency. She’s remembered as a genuine public servant who worked tirelessly to promote racial integration.
The staff newsletter announcing her appointment to the job quoted her credo: “Our lives are inextricably linked by the common thread of humanity. If we break it, we are all undone.”
Rogers had a background in the Methodist church. And her life was driven by this sentiment of a common humanity.
Most notably, when she was working at the housing authority, she decided to move with her two young daughters, 7 and 11 at the time, into the Preston Taylor public housing complex. Rogers was white and Preston Taylor was almost all black. She and her family lived there for three months.
“I don’t think I could do enough to understand the problems of people who live in housing projects without living in one for a while,” she told The Tennessean in 1977.
Nashville’s public housing was segregated when the city started constructing it in 1939. And it remained so for decades. By the late 1970s, when Rogers was working there, the developments had started to fall into disrepair and the drug trade was beginning to take hold.
Dwight Lewis was a reporter with The Tennessean at the time. He and Rogers became friends.
“She believed in diversity,” said Lewis, who is black. “She wanted to let people know that the housing developments could be desegregated. That you could be white and live in Preston Taylor and not lose your life.
“Randee was a person who believed that those developments should be better places to live in,” Lewis said. ”And that the people who lived there should be cared about.”
After working at MDHA for about three years, Rogers took a job at the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Knoxville.
Rogers grew up in Nashville and attended Hillsboro High School. She got a degree from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. After graduation, she married and had two daughters. And when she was a young mother, Rogers and her husband enrolled in the Peace Corps and traveled to Barbados to teach.
When they returned in 1973, an article quoted Rogers describing the experience. “We gained more than we gave,” was the headline.
In the mid-70s Rogers was president of the Davidson County Young Democrats. And she continued to be active in the party once her term was up.
It was on her way to the Democratic National Convention in New York City when the accident happened.
On the night of Aug. 10, 1980, she was staying with a friend in Baltimore when she woke up during the night to use the restroom. According to reports, Rogers opened a door of what she thought was the bathroom, but it was in fact the basement. She fell down the stairs and suffered serious head injuries.
She died later that day. She was 35. Her two daughters were just 10 and 14.
“You enjoy meeting people like that,” Lewis said. “Somebody who wants to improve conditions for everybody not just one group of people … And I think that was Randee Rogers.”