State Museum hosts free program on History of North Nashville

Dr  Learotha Williams

Dr Learotha Williams

Wednesday, February 15, at 12:15 p.m., a free Lunch & Learn program presented by Dr. Learotha Williams will take place on B Level of the State Museum in front of the stage.

The presentation is entitled, “The History of North Nashville: Building a Community; Challenging Jim Crow.”

Dr. Williams is currently an Associate Professor of African American and Public History at Tennessee State University. He was previously the Assistant Professor of African American and Public History & Coordinator of the African American Studies Program at Armstrong State University and a scholar in African American History, Post-Civil War America and Black Studies at Florida State University. Dr. Williams is also serves as an editor of the People’s Guide to Nashville and is the creator of the North Nashville Heritage Project.

The Lunch & Learn series is just what it says—a chance for participants to eat lunch while learning something about Tennessee history at the same time. Whether you bring your lunch in a brown bag, grab a bite from one of the food trucks on Deaderick Street, or grab a sandwich from a nearby shop, bring it to the museum and enjoy an interesting talk while you eat. The event will last about 30 minutes.

During the twentieth century, North Nashville—an area that provided a welcoming refuge for its residents and black visitors from the degrading effects of Jim Crow—became a place where black businesses thrived, new cultural art forms grew, and young black minds flourished. It was here that the descendants of formerly enslaved African Americans who migrated to the area after the Civil War created families and developed institutions that assisted them in their efforts to lay claim to the elusive American dream.

However, the welcoming neighborhood and bustling business district could not completely insulate the residents from Nashville’s sustained efforts to maintain their status as second-class citizens. This New South version of American racism ultimately led to the neighborhood’s creation, maintenance, and inevitable decimation. Though successful at making lives for themselves against incredible odds, much of the historical record obfuscates, misrepresents, and erases the history of the people who called this area home.

The North Nashville Heritage Project posits that if an accurate history of Nashville in the 20th century is to be written and we are to gain a deeper understanding of the social, economic, and political forces that led to its rise and decline, historians must amplify the voices of individuals who represent the majority of its residents—voices that may not necessarily be a part of the community represented by its celebrated entertainers, prominent businessmen and women, and religious leaders.

Established in 2010, with the assistance of students enrolled in an Introduction to Public History course at Tennessee State University, the NNHP seeks to foster a greater understanding and appreciation of the history of North Nashville and its historic relationship to the greater Nashville community. While studying the history of the community, the NNHP encourages students to engage and develop permanent relationships with its residents, businessmen, and politicians with the hope of advancing effective strategies for improving lives of the people that call the area home.

North Nashville has gone through several different states of being, first as a rural adjunct to the bustling town on the river, then as a space that served as both a poignant representation of the city’s effort to treat African Americans as second class citizens and an area provided a refuge from the degrading effects of Jim Crow. The photographs featured on this page represents a visual archive of the North Nashville community during the twentieth century and ultimately an attempt by its residents to define the community through their own eyes.

If you are a past or current resident of North Nashville or have memories of the community you would like to share, feel free to contact Dr. Learotha Williams Jr. at 615.963.5513 or via email to arrange an interview. The North Nashville Heritage Project is especially interested in the community’s oral history, stories of marginalized groups, the area’s historic natural and built environment, and its material culture.

Dr. Learotha Williams Jr., is alos coordinator of the North Nashville Heritage Project at Tennessee State University. Dr. Williams is a native of Tallahassee, Florida, earning his PhD in African American and Post-Civil War history from Florida State University in 2003. Before arriving in Nashville, he worked in the public sector as a Historic Sites Specialist for the State of Florida. From 2004-2008, he was employed as a professor of African American and Public history and program coordinator for the Black Studies Program at Armstrong State University in Savannah, Georgia. Dr. Williams has written about African American politicians during Reconstruction, freedmen education in the Post-Civil War South, and the administrative responses to student activism at HBCUs during the Black Freedom Struggle. He is currently completing a work on Jonathan Clarkson Gibbs, Florida’s first black cabinet member, and co-editing a book that provides a People’s Guide to the Music City.

Also at the Museum/TPAC: The Tennessee State Museum and the Tennessee Performing Art Center (TPAC) have collaborated to present museum visitors and theater audiences with an exhibition that gives a snapshot of Tennessee’s rich African American musical heritage. From the Beale Street blues clubs in Memphis to the R&B scene on Nashville’s Jefferson Street to Knoxville’s Gem Theatre, the Volunteer State has been the birthplace of some of the most influential music in the world.

Motown The Musical, the record breaking Broadway hit, appeared in TPAC’s Jackson Theater stage in February 2016. Tennessee’s musical heritage shares the sounds that were associated with America’s “Motor City” Detroit. In fact, many of Motown’s records were pressed at Nashville’s United Record Pressing plant. This digital exhibit was created by Noel Harris as a Graduate Research Assistant, Center for Historic Preservation, Middle Tennessee State University.

The Tennessee State Museum, located one floor below, has a large collection of items depicting the history of the Volunteer State. The permanent collection includes an exhibit that presents the history of the internationally “acclaimed Fisk Jubilee Singers” the a cappella ensemble of students from Fisk University. There is no admission charge for the museum, which is open every day except Monday.

Tennessee State Museum is located at 505 Deaderick Street, Nashville, TN 37243-1120
FREE ADMISSION Open: Tuesday – Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday: 1 to 5 p.m. Closed: Mondays and four holidays: New Year’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day. For more information, call (615) 741-2692 in the Nashville area or TOLL-FREE: 800-407-4324 or send an emai to: museuminfo@tnmuseum.org; or check out their website: tnmuseum.org