I attended a Conversations NPL at the downtown Public Library this week that was entitled “From Renewal To Revitalization – Jefferson Street.” The key for me is that consideration is rarely given to the little-known fact of Nashville being the City that houses the 2nd largest number of Historically Black Colleges and Universities where, three of the four are residentially —Jefferson Street.
Some very vital facts were presented with Tasneem Grace of Mosaic Changemakers as Moderator. Edward Kindall who represents the ‘lifeline’ of Jefferson Street gave that autobiographical view of life before the “Renewal”… that time when in a Segregated Nashville, the Businesses of Black North Nashville were in full bloom. The Homes, The Churches, The Club Night Life, The Drug Stores, The Hospital tied to the only Black Medical School in historic times —Meharry Medical College. The broken promises made to the community regarding the hard fought battle with the Federal and Sate’s plan to cut Interstate 40 through the main artery of this thriving Black community of Jefferson Street.
NashvillePost in 2020 wrote “Don’t Forget North Nashville in response the Tornado destruction”, where Megan Seling raised the question: “Will the long-promised revitalization finally follow?” She writes: “The historic, predominantly Black neighborhood and Nashville’s unifying efforts to begin to clean up its estimated $30 million to $50 million in damages were featured in the New York Times and on ABC News. But that incredible display of goodwill was only a small bandage —both for the storm damage and for the decades that Nashville has neglected the people of North Nashville. In the 1960s, the government designed Interstate 40 to cut directly through the neighborhood. After a long legal battle, the highway was approved and built, severing much of North Nashville from downtown and splitting its main artery, Jefferson Street.”
Then the “Renewal” became a reality. Dr. Mary Ellen Pethel of Bellmont University set the events of “Renewal” in perspective of the whole picture of the 1960s on Jefferson Street. The number of homes taken in displacement for replacement of the Interstate. The Battle that the community was in as a constant… compounded by the Civil Rights Struggle of the Day. The Bombing of Z Alexander Looby’s Home. The Downtown Woolworth Counter. The Freedom Riders and Fighters. The vital role that the HBCUs played in this moment in Nashville History, but told in another space and time.
When the questions were received, I was first, in this instance, to raise my hand. I questioned the use of the terminology: “Renewal” and “Revitalization”? I stated that I had graduated from Tennessee State University in 1975 at which year the class, in mass, had to leave Nashville to find jobs where Nashville had none for us. Many of my Classmates, I added, are in Atlanta and Houston. I stated that I returned to Nashville in 1993 to marriage and in almost 20 years nothing on Jefferson Street had changed. I questioned the term “Revitalization” and stated that it should be identified as “Gentrification” because after all these years, this Revitalization of Jefferson Street IS NOT for US!
I called their attention to the Hadley Park space that shares common streets with the TSU Campus and has a major history in connection. Dr. Learotha Williams, History Professor at TSU had mentioned in his panel presentation, the meetings held to decide our fate where no Blacks even attend. I reminded him of a recent meeting held at Hadley Park recently where no Blacks were there by design as they plan to made Hadley a ‘Dog Park’ to accommodate the “Gentrification” of WHITES ONLY being moved into all the, what was single Black Family dwellings, now all new multi, multi-housing units built throughout the Jefferson Street Community.
Did I say that I live in the Jefferson Street Community? And walk most every day in Hadley Park? And see the “Revitalization/Gentrification” of North Nashville… daily? And seeing the “Revitalization IS NOT FOR US?! And seeing that all of the Whites moving in are bring the biggest dogs with them and we have not talked “Guns” in Tennessee, in THIS SPACE and Time!
What I see is that the goodwill gestures spoken of by the NashvillePost resulted in the “goodwillers” now owning the tornado devastated properties that, once again, has displaced more of the Black Population of the Jefferson Street Community.
Sad for me, in this space and time, was to hear someone ask ‘what organizations in North Nashville should they look to for more” and the room went silent…
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