Brenda Harris Haywood is a Nashville legend. She is currently serving the city as its Deputy Mayor of Community Engagement and was formerly a Metro Councilwoman. She has been highlighted in a photographic exhibition in recognition of her groundbreaking achievement in furthering the public school desegregation of the city on the second floor of the Nashville Public Library (NPL) in downtown Nashville.
“Moments From the Movement,” tells the story of Nashville’s public school desegregation in the 1960s with a particular focus on 12 year old Brenda Harris, who along with three other girls, Pamela Franklin, Beverly Ward, and Bernadine Rabathaly, integrated the 7th grade at East Nashville’s Stratford High School in 1963.
With this new art exhibit and the addition of Brenda Haywood’s oral history to NPL’s Civil Rights Collection, “Moments From the Movement” tells Brenda’s story more fully, deeply, and artistically than ever before and invites us all to experience the renowned Civil Rights Room and Collection again and again. You can enjoy this inspiring and affirming exhibit through August 31, 2023.
The exhibition was opened with a well-attended public reception event on February 28, beginning with a powerpoint presentation and remarks in the Library Auditorium. Library Board of Directors Chair Joyce Searcy welcomed the attendees, particularly noting former Mayor Phil Bredesen, whose vision made the current downtown library facility and infrastructure possible. She recognized Eddie Patton, an artist whose work is in the exhibition, along with the staff of the Special Collections Team of NPL, among other notable guests.
The Nashville Plan for desegregating public schools provided a scheme by which each grade would be integrated year by year, starting in 1957 with the first grade. Brenda had been a star pupil at Nashville’s Moses McKissack Elementary School from grades one through four, and attended Inglewood Middle School for grades 5 and 6. When her time came to attend the 7th grade, she, along with Pamela, Beverly, and Bernadine were selected to integrate Stratford.
Bolstered by her tremendous faith, she boldly tackled the assignment, as she has and continues to do. She became beloved by several of her classmates, was a standout on the school’s girls’ basketball team as its first Black player, and was even chosen for the coveted Stratford High Citizenship Award by the school’s assistant principal.
Brenda graduated in 1969, and continued her education at Tennessee State University. She was a teacher and administrator in a career spanning nearly 40 years in Metro Schools. She became an ordained minister in 2008, and was elected to Metro Council for District 3 in 2015. She held that post until 2019, when Mayor Cooper appointed her Deputy Mayor of Community Engagement. Brenda, Beverly, Pamela and Bernadine remain best friends. Beverly’s daughter Kim was even a student in one of Brenda’s Gifted classes.
When asked how she had the courage to endure the trials and tribulations of facing the blatant racism and hatred she encountered while integrating Stratford, she says, “We don’t know how, we just did.” Brenda also said “Love and hate cannot coexist together.”
Tam Gordon says of her friend and colleague that Brenda is “simply a servant” who “always turns a negative into a positive.” She acknowledged that Brenda is “a woman of great determination and endurance, a loving caring and successful woman who puts her love of God before everything.”
Please take the time to visit the Nashville Public Library and view this extraordinary exhibition. It is free to view whenever the library is open, and parking for library patrons is free for 90 minutes with validation at the front desk.