NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Nashville may be known as the Music City, but outside of music Nashville has a rich history regarding civil rights.
“This was a part of history that the city didn’t really want to celebrate for a long time,” said Dr. Learotha Williams Jr.
Historical markers and photos share a small glimpse into Nashville’s past surrounding the civil rights movement.
“You know you can read about that, but it’s a whole different story when you can sit down and talk to them,” said Williams.
Williams is a professor of African American Public History at Tennessee State University and has had the opportunity to hear from those who participated decades ago.
“It’s different looking at them and seeing the emotion in their face, and hearing it in their voices when they talk about these moments,” he said.
The Nashville Student Movement and sit-ins were moments crucial to our city’s history.
“It was, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., ‘One of the best organized,'” said Williams.
And it’s these moments Caroline Eller is working to preserve.
“It’s important to kind of document our place in that chain of events and kind of how we fed into the larger movement,” she said.
Eller is a historic preservationist with the Metropolitan Historical Commission who is working on a project titled “Civil Rights Related Resources in Nashville, 1944-1966”.
The project is being supported by an African American Civil Rights grant from the Historic Preservation Fund administered by the National Park Service Department of the Interior, who awarded them a $50,000 grant in 2021.
“We really wanted this to be something that’s available and accessible to everybody free of charge and documented for all time,” said Eller.
The commission is using a survey to track down people who were involved, and with help from them and consultants Richard Grubb & Associates, they’ll be able to not only document this history, but hopefully save it too.
“Unfortunately we have so many stories of buildings gone, or it’s about to be demolished, or its going to be demolished next week for a development,” said architectural historian Robbie Jones. “We want to try our best to get ahead of it.”
It’s a project Williams knows is needed, so others can have the opportunity to learn from those who helped shape history.
“We’re not really sure how long they’re going to be with us, so while we have the time and the ability, we need to engage in whatever projects need to be created that can preserve this history,” he said.
Jones says so far they’ve already identified 37 churches used for training, workshops and gatherings, 31 demonstration and protest sites and four march routes.
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The commission has also begun the process of nominating Clark Memorial United Methodist Church and First Community Church to be added to the National Register of Historic Places.
The commission plans to hold a public gathering at Clark Memorial United Methodist on April 13 at 7 p.m.
If you were involved, known someone that was involved, or have artifacts or information about buildings for this project, you can fill out the commission’s survey here.
The survey will remain up until the end of March, while the project is expected to be completed by the end of this year.