Learn More About Nashville’s Black History at Museums like the National Museum of African American Music and at Historical Sites Along the U.S. Civil Rights Trail.
1. Nashville Museum of African American Music
For an expertly-curated look at Nashville’s history of African American music, look no further than the Nashville Museum of African American Music (NMAAM). NMAAM is the only museum in the nation dedicated specifically to the recognition and exploration of African American music. The museum’s collection features artifacts from the lives and careers of artists like Jimi Hendrix, Ray Charles, and Little Richard. Interactive galleries will excite and inform groups of all sizes, ages and backgrounds. It's no surprise that groups from all over the world are traveling to Music City to experience this new, exciting space. Groups of 15 or more can reserve their dates and build custom group packages by clicking here.
2. Jefferson Street Sound Museum
If you like supporting local businesses and appreciate the “inside scoop” consider visiting the Jefferson Street Sound Museum. Founder and Curator Lorenzo Washington has dedicated his life to preserving the musical legacy of Nashville’s Jefferson Street. In the 1940s–1960s, the street's entertainment venues were a center for rhythm and blues and rock and roll. During its Golden Age, artists like Jimi Hendrix, Etta James, and Ray Charles regularly performed at clubs and venues along the strip. The Jefferson Street Sound Museum pays homage to these artists and venues and is a “must see'' for music fans and fans of Black History alike.
3. The McLemore House - Black History Museum in Franklin, Tennessee
Forty-five minutes outside of Nashville in the city of Franklin stands The McLemore House: a Black History museum managed by the African-American Heritage Society (AAHS). The AAHS is a non-profit organization whose mission is to increase the understanding of African American culture and to collect and preserve artifacts that contribute to the interpretation of Black History at large. Purchased by ex-slave, Harvey Mclemore, in 1880: the home served as a model of community development in the first Black, middle class subdivision in Franklin. The museum is an ideal destination for individuals and groups alike, with tours available Thursday through Saturday.
4. Commemorative Stone for Black Historical Figure, Robert Renfro (Public Square)
Robert Renfro, fondly referred to as: “Tennessee’s First Black Entrepreneur” was an important figure in Nashville History. After his emancipation from slavery in 1801, Renfro opened a “House of Entertainment” on what is today’s Second Avenue. The venue went on to become one of the most successful in Nashville at the time. Renfro’s commemorative stone in Public Square stands as a monument to his tenacity, willpower, and success. Take a moment to honor his legacy by visiting the Public Square memorial that bears his name.
5. The Civil Rights Room at the Downtown Library
The Civil Rights Room at the Downtown Nashville Public Library hosts a literary collection dedicated to the exploration of the Civil Rights Movement in Nashville. During the 1950s-1960, thousands of African-American citizens in Nashville sparked a nonviolent challenge to racial segregation in the city and across the nation. The Civil Rights Room overlooks the intersection of Seventh Avenue North and Church Street, where nonviolent protests against segregated lunch counters once took place. Visitors have the unique opportunity to sit at the symbolic lunch counter and read the Ten Rules of Conduct carried by the protesters during the sit-ins. The Civil Rights room is a wonderful place for groups to spend a quiet afternoon learning about Nashville’s legacy of political activism.
Additionally, here are 5 Nashville Historical Sites on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail:
Clark Memorial United Methodist Church, Nashville
In 1958, pastor and Civil Rights activist James Lawson began hosting workshops on nonviolent protests at the Clark Memorial United Methodist Church in Nashville. In the years that followed, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. held the annual meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership conference at this same church. Throughout its history, the Church has continually served as a meeting site for numerous civil rights efforts and continues to serve as a place of community and worship to this day.
Fisk University, Nashville
In November of 1959, students from Fisk university began staging peaceful sit-ins throughout Nashville and marching along Nashville’s historic Jefferson Street in protest of segregation. Many of these protests were birthed on the Fisk University Campus. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to students at the University in 1960, encouraging them to continue with their nonviolent demonstrations. Today, Fisk University is a monument to the Civil Rights Activists who once studied in its classrooms. Campus tours can be scheduled by visiting the University’s website.
Griggs Hall at American Baptist College, Nashville
Throughout the Civil Rights Movement, students from American Baptist College participated in non-violent sit-ins in Nashville that set the tone for peaceful protesting in the South. The college has produced some of history’s notable Civil Rights Activists including John Lewis, Bernard LaFayette, Jim Bevel, Julius Scruggs, and William Barbee. Visitors can honor the alumni’s legacy of activism by visiting Griggs Hall, the first building to be erected on campus in 1924.
Davidson County Courthouse & the Witness Walls, Nashville
In April of 1960, after a bombing at the home of civil rights attorney Z. Alexander Looby, 3,000 protestors peacefully marched down Jefferson Street to meet Nashville Mayor Ben West at the Davidson County Courthouse. This nonviolent protest resulted in the mayor’s concession that segregation was immoral, signifying the beginning of racial integration in Nashville. Today, the Witness Walls at the Davidson County Courthouse commemorate this moment in history. Artist Walter Hood designed these sculptural concrete walls and adorned them with period imagery in remembrance of their victory.
Woolworth on 5th, Nashville
Woolworth on 5th is one of the most historically significant restaurants in Nashville and an excellent way to end a day spent exploring the U.S. Civil Rights Trail. Historically, this building was where many of the first lunch counter sit-ins took place during the Civil Rights Movement. In 1960, 124 students from Nashville’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities sat at the Woolworth’s lunch counter and asked to be served. White resisters refused them, and became violence in an attempt to scare protestors away. Police arrested 81 students that day, even after they sat peacefully and quietly without provoking the violence against them. Visitors can sit at the historic lunch counter and meditate on the bravery of the student activists who sat there before them. Enjoy a bite to eat while you’re there, and take a moment to reflect on the words of the immortal Martin Luther King Jr. in his address to these students:
“I came to Nashville not to bring inspiration, but to gain inspiration from the great movement that has taken place in this community.”
Photo Credit: CivilRightsTrail.com
Clearbrook Hospitality is Nashville’s premier hospitality group dedicated to creating and delivering unforgettable Group Experiences in Music City. Clearbrook Hospitality, LLC, and the National Museum of African American Music have partnered to offer exclusive “GET IN THE GROOVE” group experiences for groups of 15 or more. Customizable group travel, lodging, dining, and tour packages provide an opportunity to experience the power of music and history—together. NMAAM opened in January 2021. Be one of the first to experience this historical museum! Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org