A Self-Contained Black Town

The area surrounding Tennessee State University (TSU) here in Nashville is for all intents and purposes a self-contained black town. The wonder is that it was never incorporated as such. The black elite here should have done this; it would have given the place an official identity. As it stands, it's simply called "north" Nashville.

A better name would be Hadleytown, or Hadley, here's why: As I understand it, some 3000 acres of this area once made up the Hadley Plantation. In fact, the first "Negro Park" in the nation (1912) was 34 acres cut from the Hadley farm. Also, the 430 acres that make-up the TSU campus was cut from the Hadley farm as well. Add to this the legend of how Hadleys were kind-hearted slaver-owners, and how the son, a doctor like his father, invited Frederick Douglass to speak to the former slaves  from the porch of the plantation mansion, an act still remembered and celebrated here in North (black) Nashville.

On the topic of slavery, there are many descendants of Hadley slaves still to be found here in North Nashville. The "Swetts" for example, own several businesses.  On Charlotte Avenue, only a few blocks from where their ancestors toiled as slaves on the Hadley plantation, stands "Swett Plaza" a mini-mall containing several prospering businesses; and then across the street from the plaza is the Swett Restaurant, a Pickadilly-sized restaurant, nationally known with autographed photos on its walls of America's Who's Who? both white (and black ironically enough, employs white women as servers).

But the success of this part of Nashville may be explained by blacks where weren't slaves. According to "African-American History in Nashville, Tennessee," Lovett, U.of.Ark, a large part of the black population of antebellum Nashville was free. This came by way of the settling and development of early Nashville happened. Blacks lived and socialized in the Nashvile area with the Indians in the late 1700s before the frontierstown, Fort Nashboro was founded. Then once Nashboro began to thrive, more blacks poured in from North Carolina, Georgia and Alabama. Many, of course, were slaves brought in by their owners, but a great number were free blacks and escaped slaves.

However they got to Nashville the relationship between them and whites was markedly different than elsewhere. The slave tradition was not as entrenched in Tennessee as it was in the Deep South. Having only been founded in 1790, Tennesee and Nashville in particular had no real traditions to speak of until at least a generation later around 1815, a mere 50 bears before slavery would come to a screeching halt.

In fact, a good example of how different things were in Nashville is how its black citizens responded to segregation on public transportation in 1906. Rather than meekly go along with the 1906 policy, they founded their own public transportation company — The Union Transportation Company.

Anyway, the point here, no matter how specially made, is that the Nashville black community has a history of doing things different and this is no doubt the reason why it, based on my travels, has one of the few remaining "healthy" black communities in the nation.

It also may explain why Tennessee State University seems are far better school than most HBUCs. For example, I'm writing this from the TSU library. I walked in two hours ago at which time several tables around me had students in deep study sitting there. These students are still in deep study. Never saw anything like that at Morris Brown. These kids aren't playing; they're serious.

ricland 

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