Nashville is known foremost as a country music paradise, so the average person knows very little about Nashville’s thriving African American culture. Although most people associate the name, Music City with country greats and the Grand Ole Opry, the Fisk Jubilee Singers were the reason Nashville was given this name.
Today, the population in Nashville is 28 percent black or African American. On a walking tour with United Street Tours, you’ll take the path less-traveled. And in turn, you’ll discover the full story of the Music City. To learn more about our walking tours click here.
NASHVILLE AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY
The first permanent European settlement in Nashville took root on the cliffs by the Cumberland River as far back as 1779. It was James Robertson who allegedly founded Nashville proper when he led his group of pioneers down the valley. About 300 pioneers made the dangerous trek to Nashville, including approximately 30 displaced Africans as slaves.
Slavery was a system with many complexities. Africans were taken from their homes, sold in staggering numbers, and brought to the New World. According to the Smithsonian, in Africa today, 140 embarkation ports still exist that were used for the slave trade. Europeans initially landed in Africa in search of gold. However, European nations such as Portugal, Spain, France, Holland, and England’s attention turned to slave-seeking expeditions leading to approximately 12.5 million people being trafficked from Africa to America between the 1400s and 1800s.
As in much of America, black people arrived in Nashville chained. Slaves were stripped of their history, culture, and heritage and were forced to expand economies through forced labor. In Nashville, both slaves and free black people were present from the start, and the system of slavery continued to grow following demand. But, until recently, most accounts about early American history as it relates to black life and culture have remained a side note and not at the forefront of history. The United Street Tours team is proud to announce that from dedicated research, we have uncovered fascinating educational stories about the black experience in Nashville. We are eager to share with you the names and stories of those first Nashville African Americans on the Black History Tour of Nashville.
NASHVILLE BLACK HISTORY AND THE CIVIL WAR
In 1862, the Union’s Army encircled Nashville’s black churches, arrested black men and women, and took them to the construction site with tools. By the project’s end, the army owed black people and some “loyal slave owners” over $86,000 in wages.
For more information on civil war tours in Nashville and on visiting civil war sites and attractions, visit our customizable Nashville bus tour options by clicking here.
THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT IN NASHVILLE
Many people wonder why Nashville, TN is important to Civil Rights History. The Civil Rights Movement in Nashville marked a time when local college students entered Kress (now KMart), Woolworth’s, and McClellan stores at 12:40 p.m. in downtown Nashville. After making their purchases at the stores, the students sat-in at the lunch counters. This was February 13, 1960, twelve days after the Greensboro, North Carolina sit-ins occurred. Despite being denied service, the students continued the sit-ins over the next three months.
The first violent response to the protests came on February 27. The students that day were physically assaulted by a white group who opposed desegregation. Law enforcement arrested eighty-one people; however, not one of them included one of the attackers. Those detained were found guilty of disorderly conduct or disturbing the peace. Rather than pay fines, every single one of them opted to serve time in jail.