Edward T. Kindall has just self-published a remarkable memoir about an amazing part of our cultural history. Kindall’s book is a sentimental journey through time along the major thoroughfare through the Black community during its heyday, taking the reader from the Cumberland River to the campus of Tennessee State University—all the while commenting on the uniqueness and characteristics of the businesses and their owners and patrons and their community impact, as well as the lovely homes and personable residents of the street and neighboring community.
A Walk Down Historic Jefferson Street is a personal reflection, metaphorically, on how a boy and later young man experienced the street during a typical walk with his grandfather (and later his father) during the 1940s and into the 1970s. The work really details how the construction of the interstate highway I-40 destroyed a thriving, almost magical community of African American businesses, homes, and churches. What had emerged and grown into an entertainment Mecca for such luminaries as Duke Ellington, Little Richard, Jimi Hendrix and countless other outstanding celebrity performers playing such legendary venues as the Club Del Morocco was steamrolled into extinction.
Jefferson Street was home to Fisk University and, by its natural extension of Centennial Boulevard which is now known as John Ayers Merritt Boulevard, Tennessee A&I State College, now Tennessee State University, as well as being one block away from the extraordinary international Black health resource that is Meharry Medical College. This ‘communiversity’ of scholarly and educated folks was the epicenter of a Black Camelot. Kindall’s work describes how the town folk of this enchanted land went about their everyday business, living their lives in the throes of segregation, fighting the good fight against Jim Crow and enjoying both home and business ownership and a tight-knit village feeling of true community.
Kindall paints a graphic portrait of the mechanisms of the governmental agencies and political forces shaping the design of the off ramps and on-ramps at Jefferson Street and at 28th Avenue north. It seems that through the turmoil of the Civil Rights movement and the brutal geographic nuclear holocaust of the I-40 construction project, that layout strategically and surgically carved a path of upheaval through the beloved neighborhood.
On the bright side, his book is also a revelation about the important historical significance of the three major iconic HBCUs: Fisk, Meharry, and TSU—both then and now. Fisk, founded as one of the early colleges for educating the children of former slaves after the civil war, became a major cultural academic center of the Harlem Renaissance producing future doctors, lawyers and community leaders. Meharry continued
her unique mission of producing health professionals, including the majority of Black doctors and dentists practicing through the 20th century, along with nurses, pharmacists and other providers. And TSU offered a wide range of career paths.
A Walk Down Historic Jefferson Street/ From the 1940’s to the Early 70’s: Dark Clouds and Silver Linings During an Era of Segregation needs to be explored and experienced by anyone who cares about Nashville’s past and its future—available now at Curtis Print-All, 3530 West Hamilton Ave.