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Meeting Recap: Mapping Tennessee’s African American Neighborhoods

Our chapter had another informative and educational meeting Sat., Aug. 1st! Our third quarterly meeting of the year was held via Zoom, as will all remaining meetings of the year, due to COVID19.

Featured guest Zachary Keith, an archivist and map curator at the Tennessee State Library & Archives, shared a website he’s been working on to show – through geographic mapping overlays – the destruction of African American neighborhoods of Nashville, Chattanooga, Memphis, and Knoxville caused by urban renewal in the 1950s-60s .

The maps are striking.  In these two, for example, you can clearly see how construction of the I-40 Interstate cut through the North Nashville neighborhood around Jefferson Street.

Zachary noted that during this time, 1,549 people were relocated, 94% of them (1,450) black individuals.  Along with each map on the website, he provides historical pictures and researched narratives.

The site states that those who lost homes and businesses were more likely to be poor and African American. Such urban renewal projects seriously disrupted, and in some cases destroyed their communities, making it more difficult to accumulate property and wealth. The effects of these projects persist today, despite the progress achieved by the Civil Rights Movement in the mitigation of Jim Crow Laws – and all of this is so clearly obvious through these maps.

Discussion in the chatbox during the meeting provided additional insight:

    • two attendees lived through this deconstruction period near Jefferson Street and shared their family experiences.
    • we discussed the destruction of businesses and schools
    • a member shared that his family land was taken due to eminent domain for 1/4 of what would become Cumberland View Housing Projects aka Dodge City in the 1960’s
    • another member shared a link to a project at Johns Hopkins University that documents examples of structural racism across the country at https://about.muse.jhu.edu/muse-in-focus/confronting-structural-racism/ 

The online mapping project is worth checking out. You can visit it at https://bit.ly/mapping-tn-aa-neighborhoods.

If you have personal experiences you can share, you can reach out to Mr. Keith at Zachary.Keith@tn.gov.

 

Online, Interactive Museum Showcases Black Nashville History

nnhp_josie.wells
Learotha Williams, “Dr. Josie Wells,” North Nashville Heritage Project.

Dr. Learotha Williams, the history professor at Tennessee State University known for his North Nashville Heritage Project, has taken the preservation venture to a new level.

He launched a new website, May 11, 2020, that offers museum-quality exhibits and serves as a vehicle to share his digital collections with researchers, educators, and enthusiasts alike.

In turn, users of the site can submit their own images and inspiring stories about North Nashville history and culture. “Think of memories you carry with you to Greenwood Cemetery,” said Williams.

“It’s my hope that the work we’re doing will lead to a deep appreciation and study of African American history in Middle Tennessee.”

Williams collaborated with Simmons University graduate student Alexandra Howard, a Nashville native, to develop the site.

Howard contacted Williams earlier this year, when she was looking to collaborate with a local scholar or institution on a digital project showcasing North Nashville. The project would cap her master’s degree in Library Science and Cultural Heritage Informatics. She had been mentored in some of black Nashville’s history as a child at Hull Jackson Montessori elementary school, so she understood the value and need for preservation.

The pair spent most of last spring working together, using an open-source, web-publishing platform developed at George Mason University, called Omeka. The program is used to teach curation and is used by many small museums and historical societies.

Accessible at https://northnashvilleheritage.omeka.net/ , the site expands upon Williams research, begun ten years ago, with students in his Introduction to Public History course.

The inaugural exhibit, entitled “Books, Bibles, Blues, and Business: Legacy of North Nashville,” is drawn from the six different collections, each a distinct category of items.

Under “Business,” a striking, two-dimensional representation of Dr. Josie Wells (b. 1878 – d. 1921), shows an image of her face superimposed over a picture of the historic Morris Memorial Building. “At the turn of the century, she was the only black woman who had an office downtown,” said Williams. Accompanying text reads, in part: “Wells was the first female graduate of Meharry Medical College and the first woman to teach at Meharry. She was the first practicing female doctor in Nashville, specializing in diseases of women and children. She died on March 20, 1921 at only 42 years old.”

nnhp_slave market_
Learotha Williams, “Nashville Slave Market,” North Nashville Heritage Project.

Equally, if not more intriguing in the Oral History collection, a second, two-dimensional representation: a drawing of the Nashville Slave Market transposed over an image of Public Square. Accompanying text reads, in part: “The slave trade was a booming industry in Nashville. Enslaved people were sold at the Davidson County Courthouse.”

This latest iteration of the North Nashville Heritage Project accelerates its goal, said Williams, which is to collect and archive. “The key thing is to amplify voices that have been overlooked, or marginalized.”

Recap: Preserving Your Family History

Yesterday, AAHGS Nashville partnered with Andrew Jackson’s The Hermitage for a day of education to help individuals with preserving their family histories. The event was held at Tulip Grove Mansion, a Greek-revival home built between 1834-1836 by Andrew Jackson Donelson, the nephew of the President’s wife (Rachel Donelson) and adopted son and heir of President & Mrs. Jackson.

Tulip Grove

The Jackson family owned and enslaved many individuals on this property, thus, it is highly important that activities such as the one we had yesterday, are held to help ensure that we promote the ongoing research and documentation of individuals of African ancestry. In doing so, we help ensure their stories are not forgotten.

The day started with a presentation by yours truly, during which I shared information on the many options available for documenting family history research through building family trees.  Whether you document your family history on paper forms, using computer-based genealogy software, or web-based programs (such as collaborative family trees), it is important that the family stories & details are documented.  The presentation slides are available online.

Marsha Mullin,  Vice President of Collections & Research & Chief Curator at The Hermitage, gave a highly educational talk about the enslaved population there.  During President Jackson’s time at the residence, he enslaved hundreds of individuals with most of the enslaved having been born on site. When he passed in 1845, the property and the enslaved were passed on to his son Andrew Jr.  Over the subsequent years, many of the enslaved were sent to other parts of the country, such as Kentucky, to work at an ironworks that Andrew Jr. purchased, or were deeded to Andrew Jr.’s son, Samuel, down in Louisiana.

Marsha described the records that have been gathered to help tell the story of the Hermitage’s enslaved and the work being done to identify descendant families.  For example, this family documented in 1870 in Morehouse Parish, Louisiana, shows the household of Thornton Nichols (spelling varies). The household includes a 100-year-old male, who is believed to be named Polidore.

Household of Thornton Nichols, 1870 Morehouse Parish, Lousiana.

The names of Thornton, Polidore (age 100), Sally, and Augustine all match a known enslaved family unit that was deeded by Andrew Jackson Jr. to his son Samuel Jackson in Louisiana. Samuel Jackson Jr. left Louisiana to join the Civil War and died in 1861.  Further research and investigation are needed on Thornton and his family.

The 3rd session of the day was presented by genealogist Sue Forshee Cooper, who shared tips and strategies for the genealogy research process. Sue provided attendees with useful websites to use, approaches for courthouse research, and guidance for how to think outside the box when seeking records.

Additionally, photograph scanning and document preservation experts were on site as well to further aid in the family history process.   Many thanks to all the attendees who came out to spend the day with us!

Upcoming events at the Hermitage for Black History Month include tours focusing on the lives of the enslaved and a commemoration service on February 29th. 

 

 

Meeting Recap: Memories & Monuments

On Saturday, January 18th, we held our first meeting of the year. We were fortunate to have Dr. Angela Sutton present and showcase a variety of emotionally moving monuments around the world created to memorialize the experiences of enslaved populations. Dr. Sutton shared these projects as a context for the potential that lies before the city of Nashville as plans are considered for a monument/memorial at Ft. Negley.

Dr. Sutton discussed the following sites:

Monumento a la abolición de la esclavitud in Puerto Rico – erected in 1956, the “Monument to the Abolition of Slavery” acknowledges the country’s legal abolition of slavery in 1873.

House of Slaves (Maison des Esclaves) and the Door of No Return in Senegal – opened in 1962

Le Marron Inconnu de Saint-Domingue in Haiti – completed in 1967 in remembrance of the rebellion in Saint-Domingue against slave-holding France in 1791

a monument for the 1763 Berbice slave uprising in Guyana, finished in 1976

Barbice slave uprising monument -Guyana

Bussa Emancipation Statue in Barbados – created in 1985

Door of No Return in Ouidah, Benin – established in 1994. This memorial arch is also a UNESCO Slave Route site, like Fort Negley

Emancipation monument in Curacao – finished in 1998

Redemption Song in Jamaica (2003) – named after the Bob Marley song

Ark of Return – UN Headquarters in NY (2015) – commissioned by the

United Nations in collaboration with the UNESCO Slave Route Project

“I Am Queen Mary” – Denmark

I Am Queen Mary (2018) in Denmark – the statue is a monument to Mary Thomas, a woman who was enslaved in St. Croix and coordinated a slave revolt in which 50 plantations were burned

Each of these monuments is worth learning about and we encourage you to research them and their significance.  Dr. Sutton’s talk and review were inspiring as fodder for the ultimate question: How could we help the world to understand the experience of Nashville’s enslaved and their descendants?

We thank Dr. Sutton for her presentation and let us all use this as an opportunity to contribute our voices for what could be at Ft. Negley.

Surname Saturday: Bell

In the genealogy blogging community, there are a series of daily writing prompts that are shared to help with ideas for blogging. Today is Saturday, and one of the prompts is “Surname Saturday.” So, for this post, we took inspiration from the blogging prompt and are writing a short blurb about Bell families in middle-Tennessee.

The idea to do this came about earlier today, while I was engaged in a conversation with fellow AAHGS board member, Natalie Bell. We spoke about the numerous Bell families here in the middle Tennessee area. Undoubtedly, many can likely trace their lineages back to affiliation with Montgomery Bell (1769-1855) who owned a large iron furnace in Dickson County and enslaved hundreds of individuals during his lifetime.

Montgomery Bell’s listing in the 1850 US Federal Slave Schedule Census shows that he owned more than 250 individuals in that year alone.  I did a quick search of the 1870 US Census, the first census conducted after emancipation,  and found more than 200 black and mulatto people with the surname “Bell.” It would be interesting to conduct a surname and/or DNA study of African American Bell families to more fully explore their possible connections and interrelationships.

Natalie can trace her Bell family connections back to Charles Bell and Lucy Stringfellow Bell of Cheatham County. Charles died in 1927 and Lucy in 1944. Both are buried in Belltown Cemetery – located in a community that was founded by those formerly enslaved by Montgomery Bell.

The 1910 US Census shows Charles and Lucy to have been married for 6 years, with 3 children – John L., Mary, and Charles H. Charles was 36 years old and Lucy was 23; this was Charles’ 2nd marriage. Unfortunately, Natalie does not have any additional information about Charles’ background and family and it remains an area of research.

1870 US Census record for Charles & Lucy Bell. Civil District 11, Cheatham County, Tennessee, United States – https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MGX4-L5N

What surnames are you researching in the middle Tennessee area and what roadblocks have you encountered? Part of our AAHGS Nashville mission is to help individuals explore their family histories – let us know how we can aid in that endeavor!

 

Great Thanksgiving Listen – Record a Family Member

This week, many of us will be around friends and family over the Thanksgiving holiday.  It’s the perfect time to grab a family member or two and ask them to share a few of their stories!

Each year at Thanksgiving, StoryCorps – a non-profit organization whose mission is to encourage people to share their stories, encourages story sharing through their Great Thanksgiving Listen project.

Visit the website for details on how to use the app, suggestions for interview questions, and more.  Stories can be private, but if you choose, it can be shared online with other users and archived at the Library of Congress.

I’ve personally used the app to record a few family stories – including this one of my mom talking about  her grandmother’s yearly visits.

It’s only 2 minutes in length but catches a great glimpse of my mom’s childhood experiences with her grandmother.

What stories will you record over the Thanksgiving holiday?

Learning about NMAAM

In late Summer 2020, the National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM) is scheduled to open here in Nashville. With a prime location downtown at 5th and Broadway, NMAAM will provide an opportunity to showcase the many contributions individuals of African descent have made to the musical landscape not only in this country but abroad.

At our meeting yesterday morning, AAHGS Nashville was delighted to host Dr. Steven Lewis, curator at NMAAM, as he shared with us an overview of the museum’s development history and extensive details about the museum’s layout, exhibits, and programs.

Dr. Lewis showing the museum location on 5th and Broadway

This museum is going to be just incredible!

The exhibits will feature 5 main galleries and there will be additional gallery space for rotating exhibits. The five main galleries and their central themes include:

      • Wade in the Water – music reflecting the religious experience
      • Crossroads – about the emergence of the blues
      • A Love Supreme – jazz music
      • One Nation Under A Groove – funk, r&b music
      • The Message – hip-hop music

Additionally, the museum has artifacts and items from individuals affiliated with many different segments of the music industry and the educational immersion via the exhibits are very well designed. There will be a theater that seats almost 200 individuals, a digital hub and music research library, community meeting spaces, and more.

Rap interactive in “The Message” gallery

Many thanks to Dr. Lewis for sharing with us so extensively about the museum.

Visit the museum website to learn more and consider becoming a member and/or signing up for their email news list.

FamilySearch Adds 1860 Slave Schedule

In 1850 and 1860, there were special census surveys conducted to record enslaved individuals. Known as the “slave schedules,” these records included the slaveholder name and a list of all enslaved person they owned. Each enslaved person however, was usually not recorded with a name. Instead, the listing was often organized in reverse chronological age order, usually with each person represented by sex, age, and color.

Example entry from 1850 Slave Schedule

This week, FamilysSearch announced the addition of the 1860 US Census Slave Schedule to their website, which means they can now be accessed for free! FamilySearch already had the 1850 US Census Slave Schedule so now both are freely available.

While usually not conclusive when used alone, in tandem with other resources, such as wills, probate, and tax records, the slave schedules can provide additional insight into your investigation.

To search the 1860 US Slave Schedule, visit the FamilySearch website.

To learn more about using the slave schedules in your research, visit Kenyatta Berry’s Genealogy Search Tips for African Ancestral Research.

To see the full list of updated records at FamilySearch this week, visit their update list.

Slave & Free People of Color Database from the Nashville Metro Archives

Will books often contain many details that can help break the “brick wall” often experienced when researching enslaved individuals prior to emancipation.  To aid Davidson County researchers, the Nashville Metro Archives now offers an online database of names of enslaved individuals found in Davidson County records.

The Slave and Free People of Color Database provides access to thousands of names of enslaved individuals found in Davidson County will books.  Additional data points may include:

      • the type of record (e.g., will, bill of sale, estate inventory, settlement)
      • the slaveholder’s name
      • the slaveholder’s residence
      • enslaved individual’s age and sex
      • family relationships
      • whom the enslaved individual was transferred to
      • details about the entry, such as date, will book, and page numbers.

The database includes more than 14,000 entries are between 1783 – 1865. Visit http://www.nashvilleslaverecords.com/slave-records-airtable/ to view & search the records!

Workshop Summary: Time to Tell – Your Personal and Family History

Today’s workshop was a delight as we were led through an engaging session on writing your personal and family history with our very own AAHGS Nashville member, Deborah Wilbrink.  Deborah has in-depth experience in writing and helping individuals and organizations tell and share their stories. She brought samples of her work and referred to them often during the talk.

display of Deborah’s portfolio of work

As a workshop, the session was interactive and we did several brief exercises to help us understand strategies, processes, and techniques to write our stories. We even had opportunity to share brief stories from our families and Deborah demonstrated how even these brief snippets we shared can be part of the backbone of a larger personal story-telling narrative.

sharing some of our own stories

Overall, our workshop today was motivating and I think more than one of us left determined to get started telling the stories of our lives.

Through her company, Perfect Memoirs, Deborah offers services to help with personal family story telling so you’ll want to check out her website – www.perfectmemoirs.com. You can sign up for her blog, through which she shares how-to tips. You may also want to consider picking up a copy of her book, “Time to Tell Your Personal & Family History,” which is filled with how-to-tips meant to inspire and motivate. I picked up mine!

Deborah & Taneya

Many thanks Deborah for an educational workshop! We have much to take with us as we pursue writing our own personal histories.