Gentrification and the fleecing of Jefferson Street

William T. Robinson, Jr.

William T. Robinson, Jr.

At one time Jefferson Street flourished, prospering as the Black Wall Street of Nashville. Its Black residents and businesses served as sources of pride to Nashville’s Black community. It could boast numerous restaurants, clubs, a hotel, and premiere homes for many of Nashville’s prominent Black elite.

Jefferson Street could boast of harboring three HBCUs (Meharry Medical College, Fisk University and Tennessee A&I, now known as Tennessee State University). Its history in contributions to Black music is legendary, welcoming and grooming many up and coming singing artists in its heyday.

Jefferson Street underwent a major setback with the introduction of the Interstate, dividing the area and adding to the demise of many businesses. Jefferson Street and the surrounding area started to decline somewhat, but remained Black.

Jefferson Street was virtually high jacked when Whites who had previously moved to the suburbs decided they wanted back into the inner city, closer to downtown. Like other cities the relocation of indigenous Blacks living in areas near downtown is nothing short of adhering to a prescribed plan of operation being used in many major cities.

Ironically, redeveloping an area should be a plus for everyone, but in reality it is usually one-sided, benefiting a certain prescribed population. ‘Everyone wins’ is not usually the case, although it is usually preached and sold to the original inhabitants. Gentrification can have some far reaching tentacles that can be detrimental to those originally living in the communities affected.

Let’s establish one thing, and that is that I am not against progress. But I am against the lack of ethics and fairness involved in providing all parties involved adequate consideration, especially in determining their own outcome. When you take over an area under the guise of gentrification, it seems the right thing to do is to offer those living in the area viable options concerning their impending predicament.

These options can vary according to one’s position as an owner, renter, or a business vested in the area undergoing gentrification. There should be low interest loans or federal grants available, offering the original habitants the option to redevelop their own community if they choose. Legislation should be enacted, guaranteeing that a designated percentage of homes, apartments and businesses should be relegated to Blacks or minorities.

All too often the indigenous people in the area are literally relocated or forced out without benefiting in the profits of the redevelopment taking place. Usually the public is led to believe that gentrification benefits everyone, especially the city as a whole.

The truth is gentrification can (for the most part) be seen as a hostile takeover where greedy developers and investors take advantage of those less fortunate, offering them little if any stake in the redeveloped area. Many times people don’t want to sell their properties but redevelop their residences or businesses themselves. Yet they cannot get the financing from the banks, thus making many banks complicit in discriminatory practices supporting redevelopment in the favor of certain developers and investors.

Higher property taxes force many residents, especially the elderly, to sell because of their inability to pay or keep up with the rising property taxes escalating due to higher home values in the area surrounding them. Then you have buyers dangling appealing prices to uninformed desperate home owners who see the offers as extremely generous—not knowing the buyer will double or triple his investment at the least.

Usually those selling their homes can find bigger homes outside the area undergoing gentrification but cannot afford to stay in the newly gentrified area. Gentrification for the most part does not benefit African Americans or people struggling. It benefits an affluent middle class or upper class group basically consisting of Whites as well as overly greedy developers and investors. Minority involvement in the economic windfall is minimal if any at all.

Many would argue that gentrification promotes elitist White communities and adds to relocating financially disadvantaged people forming concentrated areas of poverty. White developers and investors are all too often the only ones who win financially. Black developers and investors cannot financially compete with their White counterparts unless a certain percentage of redevelopment is mandated to go to minorities.

The removal of the site of the National African American Music Museum from the corner of Rosa Park Blvd and Jefferson to a basement downtown convinced me that there exist those among us not working in the best interests of the Black community in Nashville. What other place could better be suited for the museum than Jefferson Street? It was a no brainer.

I can only wonder what we can say when future generations of African Americans in Nashville ask us how we allowed historically Black Jefferson Street to become predominantly White. A few Black businesses do not suffice overlooking the fleecing of our beloved Jefferson Street. Where was the diversity and commonality benefiting all parties?

It seems like it is always about what is in the best interests of our White counterparts, many times putting the Black community in a position of being duped or dismissed. But in the case of the fleecing of Jefferson Street, there is enough blame to go around on both sides. Let this be a learning experience, opening our eyes to know who really has our best interests at heart.