What It Means To Be Black In Nashville, Tennessee
By Rachel George
When Phylicia Kennedy has a craving for southern home cooking, she looks over a list in her phone full of black-owned restaurants and businesses. As a food and travel blogger, she journeys up and down the east and west coast high spotlighting some of the world’s most unique food dishes. In her hometown Nashville, she hits up Swetts when she’s craving fried fish, greens and mac n’ cheese. She took so much pride growing up in Nashville at a young age where the communities and neighborhoods were “mostly black.”
African-Americans are the second largest demographic in the music city capital, Nashville. The city has seen much growth within the black community in the last few years, regarding businesses and cultural spaces for black people. For Kennedy, this is the perfect opportunity for black people to be around people that look like them, while still allowing the community to thrive by offering employment to our own.
That’s why it was so disheartening when she saw her city being taken over by new property developments and gentrification, affecting the cost of living and potentially eliminating those spaces for black people.
“Communities that would normally be filled with people of color are now being knocked down, and some people forced out due to investors purchasing the land and landlords selling the property which is then replaced with $500k+ condos and apartments that are not affordable for the people that grew up in the area.”
Business in the Black
Buchanan’s booming arts district has garnered a lot of attention after the sudden emergence of several black-owned businesses in the area. Slim & Husky’s Pizza Beeria, The Southern V and Minerva Avenue Bar are all located less than a mile away from each other on Buchanan Street. Those establishments and a few other businesses are recognized as some of the hottest spots in Nashville shifting the culture and bringing a modernized view of unity and family amongst our people and our businesses by supporting one another.
“I always said if I want to live here I want to go places and see people like myself. There was nowhere,” said culture catalyst and entrepreneur Robert Higgins, Jr. Over the last ten years, he’s worked at pushing the culture forward being involved in business and community endeavors. His latest business venture, Minerva Avenue Bar is another space for black people to come and celebrate themselves. They can enjoy spectacular craft cocktails made from scratch with daily freshly delivered juices.
Jomilla Newsom of the Hubble Bubble Podcast Podcast believes this support comes from the city’s current unapologetic attitude with preserving the culture. She does so herself by featuring local artists, creative, entrepreneurs and the multifaceted leaders in Nashville, discussing topics such as self-care and mental health. “I think Nashville is excited to embrace our culture and take it back,” she said. “So many people of different backgrounds and cultures move here and have to create spaces to see people that look like them.”
Blacks in Art
One of those spaces is the Vanguard Art Show. Vibe out to the sound of Afrobeats and soul music while taking in the arts by Preston Mitchell and other local artists. For those interested in spoken word, this is the place to be. Local vendors host pop-up shops by cultural brand Southern Yankee and more.
“Events like Vanguard make you proud to be Black and that’s important in this climate,” Newsom said. “I was just on an emotional high seeing so many talented and beautiful Black faces all around.”
Jefferson Street is another grand staple in Nashville, connecting the city’s three HBCUs: Tennessee State University, Fisk University, and Meharry Medical College. During its “Golden Years“ between 1935 and 1960, Jefferson Street flourished when it came to Nashville’s elite businesses, houses, and hotels and its deep musical history. Legendary artists such as Ray Charles, B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Etta James and more performed at live venues and recording studios, such as Del Morocco and New Era Club, where Etta James created her first live album and more.
Helping to preserve Jefferson Street’s musical heritage, resident Lorenzo Washington established the Jefferson Street Sound Recording Studio. He recently partnered with Vanderbilt University to educate others about the history of urban environments. Once a month, the Jefferson Street Art Crawl allows residents to control the narrative of their community through various forms of art.
With gentrification taking over Nashville and some of its cultural staples, residents and black-owned businesses are steadily in protecting Nashville’s gems and preserving the city’s history through arts, entertainment and business.
“I still think there is a lot of work to do when it comes to the communities here and having more spaces for black culture to thrive and events for black people to enjoy,” Kennedy said.
Looking to support the black dollar in Nashville? Here are a few other black-owned businesses in Nashville: The Garden Brunch Café, The Post Coffee, Smoothie + Juice Bar, John Lane Studio, Music City Cleaners, The Cupcake Collection, Kernels Gourmet Popcorn, The Peach Cobbler Factory, Legato Gelato, Styles Boutique, The Lab Nashville and more.