Tennessee State University’s College of Liberal Arts and the Metropolitan Historical Commission will celebrate the contributions of African Americans to Nashville and Tennessee history on Friday, February 9.
For over 35 years, the Nashville Conference on African American History and Culture has brought together historians, students, educators, community leaders, and others interested in African American history and culture. This year’s conference, entitled ‘A Panoramic View of African American History in Nashville and Tennessee,’ will examine the myriad ways African Americans have made an impact in Nashville and Tennessee, through history, story, and song.
This year’s speakers include Vanderbilt history professor Dr. Jane Landers presenting on Nashville’s early Black history; Hermitage assistant curator Dr. Ashley Bouknight using Black material culture as a lens to evaluate activism; and Vanderbilt history professor Dr. Brandon Byrd speaking on Toussaint L’Ouverture and his connection to Tennessee. In honor of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., retired Vanderbilt professor Dr. Lewis V. Baldwin will examine Dr. King’s legacy in the age of ‘Trumpism.’ Dr. Herbert Clark and Dr. Cynthia Bond Hopkins will both discuss the idea of ‘racial uplift’—Dr. Clark through the life of James Carroll Napier, and Dr. Bond Hopkins through the impact of HBCU-educated Africans Americans in rural communities.
Continuing the conference’s long-standing tradition in celebrating African American music, TSU history professor Dr. K.T. Ewing will present on two jazz greats, Alberta Hunter and Lil Hardin Armstrong. As always, the conference will provide an opportunity for musical and artistic enlightenment, with a recitation of ‘The Witness Wall’ by spoken word poets Gray Bulla and Constance Bynum of Southern Word, and a performance by the TSU Meistersingers.
In 1981, a group of Nashville historians began discussing the possibility of holding an all-day conference for the purpose of presenting papers, projects, and activities related to local African American culture and history. Although African Americans had been vital to the growth and development of Nashville, little information about their contributions was readily available to the public. The founding members of the planning committee: Bobby L. Lovett (Tennessee State University), Lois C. McDougald (Tennessee State University), May Dean Coop Eberling (Metropolitan Historical Commission), and Linda T. Wynn (Tennessee Historical Commission) conceived the conference as a way of bringing these stories to light through an event that would have broad appeal for the community. Through their efforts, the annual Afro-American Culture and History Conference began on September 9, 1981.
Renamed the Conference on African American History and Culture in 2003, the Conference has continued to bring together historians, educators, students, and other individuals interested in how African Americans shaped the history of Nashville and Tennessee. Speakers come from all walks of life and include family historians, church historians, and high school teachers as well as college and university professors and graduate students. Each year’s program blends information and enrichment with cultural entertainment.
“The Conference differs from traditional academic gatherings in that cultural entertainment and art have always figured prominently in the program.
Integrating cultural expressions of black history has involved students as performers from a variety of college and high school ensembles like the Fisk Jubilee Singers, the TSU Meistersingers, the Whites Creek High School Marching Band, and the Fisk University Stagecrafters,” said conference organizers.
The Conference has also hosted professional entertainers of national acclaim, including the Princely Players and the Fairfield Four.
“Tennessee State University has always had a strong art program and through the efforts of several art professors and curators, the Conference has developed a special focus on visual arts.
Many of the conference profiles and presentations have featured notable artists such as William Edmonson, Aaron Douglas, Frances Thompson, and Greg Ridley.”
The conference will take place at the Avon Williams Campus of Tennessee State University, and will begin at 9 am and conclude at 3:30 pm. Registration is $25, and includes admission to all speakers and performances, and additions to the Profiles of African Americans in Tennessee series. Lunch and parking are also included. Those interested can register by calling 615-862-7970.