Negro Playwright Theatre
The American Negro Playwright Theatre (ANPT) is a local theatre company housed at Tennessee State University’s Thomas Edward Poag Auditorium. Students perform various roles, including acting in major productions, and also have an opportunity to work with professionals in the area of theatre. ANPT aims to bridge theatre arts and the community, inviting anyone to witness the black experience, regardless of their own race or family background. These plays are drawn from the experiences of black Americans and are intended to dissipate stereotypes and promote cultural diversity.
Belle Meade Plantation
This historic venue showcases the 1853 Greek revival mansion and seven outbuildings including the colossal Carriage House and stables housing an antique carriage collection. Experience the stories of enslaved African Americans who helped build and maintain the world-famous thoroughbred plantation in the 19th century. One hundred years of history come to life as costumed guides tell stories of life at Belle Meade.
Civil Rights Room
The Civil Rights Room is located in the Downtown Public Library. With a $1 million donation earmarked for establishing a collection of materials documenting Nashville’s contributions to the Civil Rights Movement, the room features a replica lunch counter with timelines of local and national events in the Civil Rights Movement.
The nationally historic Nashville sit-ins of the 1960s were the inspiration for the special collection. Large format photographs of those sit-ins form the backdrop of the room. In the center of the room resides a circular lunch counter surrounded by stools designed to replicate the settings of many nonviolent demonstrations led by students from local universities that began in Nashville on February 13, 1960.
Additionally, the Nashville Public Library continues to grow its Civil Rights Oral History collection. Seeking to collect the oral histories of participants and witnesses of the student sit-ins in Nashville, the library has collected 40 interviews to date, which will be available to researchers once the interviews are transcribed and cataloged.
Founded by the American Missionary Association and the Western Freedman’s Aid Commission, Fisk University began in 1866 as the Fisk School, a free school for blacks in Nashville. Jubilee Hall, completed in 1875, was the first permanent building erected for the higher education of African Americans in the United States, and is now a National Historical Landmark. Money for its construction was raised by the Jubilee Singers whose worldwide singing tours brought them international acclaim. Additionally, the Little Theatre, built in 1860, is the oldest structure on the campus of Fisk University. Erected as part of the Union Army Hospital barracks during the Civil War, it was readapted for use as the campus theatre in 1935.
Also on Fisk’s campus is the Carl Van Vechten Art Gallery, named for the New York music critic, art collector and photographer who inspired the 1949 donation of the Stieglitz Collection to the university by Alfred Stieglitz’s widow Georgia O’Keeffe. The collection includes original works by Cézanne, Picasso, Renoir, O’Keeffe, and others. Furthermore, in the gallery’s collection are paintings by Harlem Renaissance artist Aaron Douglas who headed the Fisk Art Department for many years.
Fort Negley was the largest and most important fortification built by Union troops occupying Nashville during the Civil War. Built in 1862 on St. Cloud Hill, the complex fort was designed with European features. Using a partial star-shape design, the unique layout of the fort allowed crossfire against the Confederate army.
Intent on keeping control of Nashville because of its important transportation means with river and rail, the Union army constructed the 180,000-square-foot fort covering four acres. Two thousand African- American workers, some slaves and some free blacks, built the fort for the Union army in preparations for the Battle of Nashville. Approximately 800 people died while building the fort, and many more African-American soldiers died during the Battle of Nashville. Because the Union army would not supply weapons to the black soldiers or slaves, they were forced to protect themselves with shovels and picks.
The fort fell into disrepair after the war but was restored in the 1930s by the Works Progress Administration only to deteriorate again. Because of its rich Civil War history, the fort was again renovated and reopened to the public in 2004 and the Fort Negley Visitor Center opened in 2007. Fort Negley is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1906, Preston Taylor established Greenwood Park adjacent to Greenwood Cemetery. The privately-owned park opened at a time when African-American citizens were not permitted in public parks. Encompassing almost 40 acres of open land, Greenwood Park included a clubhouse, theater, skating rink, roller coaster, shooting gallery, merry-go-round, and baseball park (home of the Greenwood Giants). Today you can visit the former site of the park at the northwest corner of Elm Hill Pike and Spence Lane adjacent to Greenwood Cemetery.
Established in 1912, Hadley Park is thought to be the first public park for African-American citizens in the United States. The 34-acre park stands on part of the antebellum plantation of John L. Hadley, a white slaveowner committed to helping post Civil War freed men and women adjust to their new status. At Hadley’s invitation, Frederick Douglass spoke to former slaves in 1873 from the porch of the Hadley house, which stood in the park until 1948. Tennessee State University stands on another portion of the Hadley land. Today, Hadley Park also offers baseball fields, tennis courts, picnic shelters, a playground, and summer concerts. The park is located at the intersection of 28th Avenue North and Centennial Boulevard.
Andrew Jackson's Hermitage: Home of the People's President
Born a slave on The Hermitage plantation, and known simply as Alfred, this now-legendary man assisted with the horses and maintained the wagons and the farm equipment. After emancipation, he chose to remain on the plantation as a tenant farmer and lived at The Hermitage longer than anyone else, white or black. Additionally, when The Hermitage was opened to the public as a presidential home, Alfred was the first tour guide telling visitors authentic stories about President Andrew Jackson. When Alfred died in 1901, his funeral was held in the center hall of the mansion, and he was buried in the family garden next to the President himself. Alfred was the only non-family member buried in Rachel’s garden.
Home of the Stars
As the home of the Stellar Awards, Nashville is also home to entertainers such as:
- BeBe Winans
- CeCe Winans
- Take Six
- Kirk Whalum
- Ben Tankard
- Tommy Sims
George W. Hubbard, a professor in local African-American schools after the Civil War, built a house in 1920 when he retired as president of Meharry Medical College. The house, designed by Moses McKissack III, is a four-square Colonial Revival style structure and is the last vestige of the original Meharry campus. Now on the property of the Seay-Hubbard United Methodist Church, the house is listed on the National Register of Historic Homes.
From the 1930s through the early 1960s, Jefferson Street was one of America’s best-known districts of jazz, blues, and rhythm and blues. Famous African-American musicians played regularly in the many clubs — Club Baron, Del Morocco and the New Era Club. Little Richard, Jimi Hendrix, Ray Charles, Fats Domino, B.B. King, Ike and Tina Turner, and Memphis Slim performed here regularly. Etta James recorded a live album, Etta James Rocks the House, at The New Era Club. Nashville artists, many with hit records, made the district their home.
Show business headliners stopped in Nashville to try their acts. The Silver Streak, the great off-Jefferson Street ballroom, booked such big names as Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Count Basie, and Ella Fitzgerald.
Members of the old Negro Baseball League and recording artists such as Ruth Brown, Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, and Ella Fitzgerald stayed at Brown’s Hotel and played the famous Blue Room at Del Morocco, owned by “Uncle” Teddy Acklen.
In 1994, a group of concerned citizens — homeowners, business owners, longtime residents and developers with new construction in mind — met to create a framework for advancing Jefferson Street. The result of their vision of progress was the Jefferson Street United Merchants Partnership (JUMP), a non-profit organization whose mission is “To develop, foster and promote cooperative economic development through revitalization, acquisition, education and public safety programs in North Nashville.”
Today more than 111 individuals and organizations make up JUMP’s active membership with one thing in common: keeping Jefferson Street alive and thriving. www.jumptojefferson.com
A great way to explore Jefferson Street is through the Jefferson St. Sunset Walking Tour, offered by United Street Tours. Visit www.unitedstreettours.com to learn more.
Mount Ararat Cemetery
Founded in 1869, Mount Ararat Cemetery was Nashville’s first African-American cemetery. The cemetery, acquired in 1982 by Greenwood Cemetery, has been restored and renamed Greenwood Cemetery West. One of the many leaders buried there is Dr. Robert Fulton Boyd. Boyd was an African-American physician and graduate of Meharry Medical College who helped found the National Baptist Association, a national association for black physicians.
National Museum of African American Music
On October 25, 2004, Governor Phil Bredesen set aside 3.86 acres of prime real estate in the northwest corner of the Bicentennial Capitol Mall for the development of a national museum for African-American music, history, and culture in Nashville. The 30-year lease included a “no charge” agreement to develop the state-owned property and also included the option to purchase the property for $1 at the expiration of the lease.
The National Museum of African American Music, opening date TBD, will stand as an international iconic cultural museum dedicated to the vast contributions African Americans have made in music. As the only museum in the nation with a dedicated focus on all dimensions of the contributions African Americans have made to American music, NMAAM will encompass musical distinctions that reinforce the impact of African Americans across the country and around the world.