Homecoming '86 was a year-long celebration in almost every Tennessee community. The focus of the event, according to state officials, was to be “part hoe-down, part history lesson and part homecoming celebration.” Many communities put into place organizations that continued through the state's bicentennial in 1996.
The project began during the administration of Governor Lamar Alexander with the establishment of thirty-nine pilot communities in 1983 to initiate preparations for Homecoming '86 and serve as examples to other communities. After the pilot communities created a workable development plan, state organizers worked with communities statewide. Local community organizations kept the celebration locally based. Regional coordinators provided assistance in local organization and activities and relayed information to the state. The state sanctioned “Official Homecoming Communities” for active participants in the celebration. More than eight hundred communities received this designation.
Each community focused on two major goals: researching the community's history and planning a project to preserve, promote, or enhance the qualities of the community. Homecoming Communities created four working committees: heritage, vision, project, and Homecoming '86.
Tennesseans responded enthusiastically to the Homecoming '86 concept, using the occasion as an opportunity to clean up their towns, develop new museum and parks projects, and set future goals.
The state Homecoming staff developed a promotional campaign and a Homecoming logo to publicize the celebration. A promotional film titled “3,000 Places Called Home” explained the concept of Homecoming '86. Alex Haley and Minnie Pearl served as honorary cochairpersons for the celebration. Statewide activities included a traveling musical production, “Comin' Home Tennessee”; school educational programs to enhance state pride; a reunion of Tennessee journalists; Tennessee storytelling at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough; and a twelve-car passenger train, the Homecoming '86 Special, which traveled across the state with Governor Lamar Alexander, Alex Haley, and the “Comin' Home” musical production. Finally, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C., focused on Tennessee culture