A Family Shares Their Nashville Civil Rights Walking Tour

Now that Nashville is the “It City” we’ve became famous for our hot chicken, live music, and the show named after us. But we are so much more. Our city played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement. And the early wins in integration here paved the way for the wins across the Nation. Dr. King even called Nashville ‘The Model Movement.’

The sad thing is, I’ve lived here my whole life and never knew any of this until the spring of last year. I saw Selma and knew I needed to get conscious.

 

My Family’s Walking Tour

Having acquired all this newfound knowledge on the history of my hometown, I asked my family to do the Civil Rights Walking Tour. Our ages range from 16-65…so we motivated them a bit by awarding a cash prize to the person that remembered the most facts. I am not above bribery, y’all.

Nashville-Civil-Rights-Tour-War-Sit-Ins-Simone
Simone Boyd

 

The Nashville Civil Rights Movement Walking and Driving Tour was published by Historic Nashville, Inc. The guide book explains the six stages of The Movement, lists the location and significance of twenty-nine historical sites, and includes a map. The tour is large and would probably take a day to complete.

So we focused on the downtown sites within walking distance of the Main Nashville Public Library. We started our walk at the Nashville Civil Rights Room in the Library (it’s designed to look like a lunch counter at the center) and visited ten sites. The site numbers coincide with the walking tour map.

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  • No. 6 – Doctor’s Building
  • No. 15 – Harvey’s Department Store
  • No. 16 – Cain-Sloan Department Store
  • No. 17 – Woolworth’s
  • No. 18 – S.H. Kress & Co.
  • No. 19 – Walgreens
  • No. 23 – YWCA
  • No. 24 – The Hermitage Hotel
  • No. 25 – The Arcade
  • No. 26 – War Memorial Building

 

Tour Highlights

The Doctor’s Building was the first integrated medical clinic opened in 1947. The building superintendent told us that there are a series of underground passages that were used to get black patients into the office. But we did not investigate that.

 

Cain-Sloan Department Store (now Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant) was the target of sit-ins during February of 1960 and one of the first to succumb to the pressure of protesters.  And my mom told us that it was one of the stores she modeled for when she moved to Nashville in the eighties.

 

The Nashville Christian Leadership Council organized weekly mass community meetings at the War Memorial Building to keep  everyone aware of the progress and desegregation issues. And my dad shared that’s where he first held prayer meetings to address the issue of fatherhood in the nineties.

 

At the end of the tour, my little sister won the quiz. She’s a college student and takes prize money very seriously. But the highlight for me was remembering all the work my elders did, retracing their footsteps, and realizing I am still reaping the benefits of their labor.

So take the tour and remember all that Nashvillians did for The Movement.

Insider Tour Tips

Insider Tour Tips Time: 90 minutes to two hours (with a large group) Parking: Park at the Nashville Public Library and see the Civil Rights Room. The first 90 minutes of parking are free with library validation. Then begin the walking tour one block away at Site No. 6. Cost: Free Value: Priceless

A Little Extra History from Simone:

So I started reading, Walking with the Wind. It’s the biography of Honorable Representative John Lewis, and he dedicates three chapters of his book to the role Nashville played in The Movement. He recounts:

 

  • the nonviolence workshops taught by James Lawson at Clark Memorial United Methodist
  • the silent march to downtown Nashville after the bombing of Z. Alexander Looby’s home that drew thousands of people and an admittance from Mayor Ben West…that segregation was wrong
  • and how the Nashvillian Student Movement picked up the Freedom Rides after the bus bombing in Anniston and the mob attack in Birmingham.

 

Written By

M. Simone Boyd quit her job as an energy analyst to research what makes relationships thrive or die. She interviewed 10 Christian Black Men to get their advice on relationships and wrote a free guide. Simone is one of eight kids, and her awesome husband is an only child. She leads workshops, writes, and goes to the gym at least once a month.

4 Comments

  • Hi Simone! Thank you for these tips!! We have a group of kids that we will be taking on this walking tour in April, can you connect us to someone that could guide us? Thanks! Rosa

  • Hi Rosa! Thank you for commenting and your interest in the tour! I am SO excited to hear about your group. (Side note: forgive me for the delayed response, I was away on vacation and am just now getting caught up. )

    For a tour of the Nashville Civil Rights Room, please contact them via phone at (615) 862-5782. ( I just called the Nashville Public Library to confirm the phone number). Tours are scheduled by appointment and the library requires at least two weeks notice.

    Regarding a guide for the walking tour, I may be able to help you because I still have all my notes and research from my family’s tour. I’ll email you to get more information about your group.

    Thanks a bunch! Simone

  • Thanks for this great page. My dad and I are visiting Nashville in a couple weeks. Is it fairly easy to get the tour brochure? Do you know if they’re available at the library where you started? I found the PDF online (thanks for your link), but I’d love to get my hands on the real thing when we get there. Thanks!

    • Hi Erik!
      Excited to hear you are visiting our great city and want to do the tour. I am not sure if there is a printed guide available but definitely a good question. I will do a little bit of detective work and follow back up with you. please shoot an email to hello@urbaanite.com with your email address.

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