Here, on Martin Luther King Day, I’m thinking about the way so many moments in American history disappear with time.
Many, many of them have to do with racism, the stories and lives of enslaved people, and the ease with which our governments—local, state, and federal—have behaved abominably.
Here in Nashville, one of those hidden moments has been memorialized with a new historical marker.
In 1961, Nashville city officials closed all 21 of Nashville’s whites-only public swimming pools, rather than allow Blacks access to them.
I learned about this bit of history in 2015, when I heard Howard Gentry, a lifelong Nashvillian, tell his story of hopping the fence and taking swims after hours. I was horrified, and I was also embarrassed not to have known this history. As a white girl in Nashville in the early ’70s, I’d go with my mother for her watercolor classes at the fancy new Centennial Park Art Center. Talk about whitewashing; she never said a word, maybe didn’t even know, given that we were new to Nashville. But no white people were talking about it then, that’s for sure. There was no marker—only a sunken garden of sorts, which was an odd thing to see in an otherwise flat city park.
You can see Howard Gentry in this news report of the unveiling of the historical marker.
Historical markers in the South have a long way to go. Seeing this one take its place in Nashville’s version of Central Park is a long-overdue acknowledgment of an appalling piece of Nashville history.
In a similar vein, here’s a New York Times report about the effort to identify and protect the cemeteries in Louisiana that are the resting places of thousands of enslaved people. Old maps, a grove of trees, topographical anomalies—it is hard work to uncover these cemeteries.
Absolutely fascinating to learn about this work, and to think about what it means that these cemeteries vanished so easily.
And a Podcast
After publishing her best-selling The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together, author Heather McGhee took wide-ranging roadtrips to have conversations with people working to overcome division in their communities. Spotify has partnered with Color of Change here to present an episode-by-episode review of The Sum of Us podcast with links to ways to support and become part of “The America That’s Becoming.”
Here is a site where you can search Black-owned bookstores for The Sum of Us and other titles.