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Neighborhood developed by African Americans for African Americans honored during Preservation Month

by PRIDE Newsdesk
The Metro Historic Zoning Commission presents Neighborhood Leadership Recognition certificate to Council member Toombs, Haynes Heights Neighborhood Association President Quinta Martin, and Board member Eric Cazort.  Shown (l to r):  Chair Menié Bell, Council member Toombs, Quinta Martin, Eric Cazort, Commissioner David Price, Commissioner Elizabeth Mayhall, Commissioner Mina Johnson, Vice-chair Stewart, Commissioner Elizabeth Cashion.

In celebration of Preservation Month, the Haynes Heights Neighborhood Association was honored with the Metro Historic Zoning Commission’s first Leadership Recognition on May 17. The recognition honors a neighborhood association, merchants association or individual that has, through their leadership, made outstanding contributions to their community and worked towards preservation and education regarding the history of their neighborhood/district. The winners of this recognition inspire others to take action in their communities.

Haynes Heights is a mid-20th century neighborhood located north of West Trinity Lane. Developed by and for African Americans during the ‘Jim Crow’ era, doctors, lawyers and educators were some of its earliest inhabitants. In October 1954, the Davidson County Planning Commission approved a 14.2-acre development for African Americans, to include 102 home sites. The approved subdivision was estimated to cost $1,000,000. Developer K. Gardner estimated that houses would cost an average of $10,000 each. The neighborhood’s namesake, Rev. William Haynes, was born into enslavement but became a prominent educator, minister, and real estate developer in Nashville. In 1931, he donated a parcel of land for Haynes School, a school for African American students.

Although outside of city limits during the era of redlining, much of northern Nashville became the only place for African Americans to live. With the planning commission’s approval of the subdivision, newspapers deemed it the largest, private suburban development for Nashville’s Black population. Leaders within Nashville’s African American communities noted this development as a sign of progress, calling it the “clean outskirts of the city.” They believed the private financial backing of the development showed how African Americans had “an appreciation for finer living conditions the same as other racial groups.” Homes were advertised as “all-electric,” “styled for easy, modern living,” and noted as being exclusively built for African Americans. Developers placed since-expired deed restrictions on all lots, disallowing “noxious or offensive operations,” poultry and livestock, trailers and barns and requiring all homes to be connected to the water main supply. This ensured that the neighborhood embodied the lifestyle that the burgeoning Black upper class desired for their families, one that was not available to them in established neighborhoods of segregated Nashville.

Despite a series of racially-motivated cross-burning incidents in October 1957, Haynes Heights remained praised as a symbol of Black prosperity in the late 1950s. In the 1960s, neighborhood residents and coalitions successfully fought against proposed industrial development and a commercial community center that would have adversely impacted the district. Later years saw battles against a proposed landfill, apartment complexes, a produce warehouse, and potential displacement from a planned highway project that was ultimately re-routed. These hard-won victories have protected the architectural and historic integrity of a neighborhood created as a middle- to upper-class suburban oasis for Black Nashvillians. Many homes represent the popular, mid-century Ranch style, including traditional, transitional, and split-level forms with a wide variety of architectural features and materials.

According to historic zoning officials: “Property owners were instrumental in obtaining this protection of their history with a historic zoning overlay and accomplished the task during COVID, just as they have been the key force to prevent re-zonings over the year that would likely have resulted in the loss of this important neighborhood.  The MHZC is proud to honor the association’s many efforts towards preserving their story and their neighborhood.”

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