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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.

Lost Graveyards

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.


  • Thank you, Anne and Kay for maintaining the conversation on racial injustice and highlighting BIPOC knitters.

    • Agree!

    • This is an excellent relevant and poignant sharing of Ann Shayne’s Nashville memory and our collective American history on this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of honoring and remembering.
      MDK exists in a context of past and present reality.
      Ann, you have done a good deed – thank you.

  • I do hope we are becoming a better nation. It is long overdue.

  • Thak you!

  • Than you.

  • Thank you for these reminders of our muted history, and for the links to valuable work. It’s important for us to remember when we say our government did these things, it means we did these things. We are our government.

  • Why do you capitalize Blacks but not whites? Just a small difference, but from small acorns etc….

  • Thank you for keeping this conversation going. We need to know and understand our history in order to move forward with understanding , compassion and love in present and future.

  • Too bad the pools can’t/won’t be re- opened. Then put the marker next to the main, open to All, entrance.

  • The saving of cemeteries is also an issue in Nashville. We are forever butting heads with developers in the Cane Ridge area to preserve these precious historical sites.

  • I wish the world was different but we see in the comments we have A long way to go.

  • You managed to use a racial slur three times in your comment. Please examine why you thought that was necessary.

  • I grew up in a horrible little town in north Georgia where slurs were more than commonplace and even in the early 90’s people of color lived ‘across the track’, segregated in a separate part of town. I grew up never hearing slurs in my own home, never hearing the the hateful remarks and jokes that go hand in hand with brutal racism. I think it’s past time that people stop repeating or writing those hateful terms, even in commentary like this, and let the horror of those words die forever as they should.

    • We must talk about the horrors of the past so we don’t repeat them and become like those people. One of my philosophy lecturers was Peter Singer. He began a first year lecture by saying ‘There are some things we just know are wrong. We know for example, eating babies is wrong. We just know that ‘. (Apologies to Peter Singer if I have in any way misquoted him). I say we also ‘just know’ many other things are wrong such as villifying people because they are different. Their skin, eye, hair colour, religion etc is different’. We need to talk about those things so we can let the light shine into those dark places of ignorance. Let people talk about the injustices they were made to endure and the wrongness of that. we personally can stop perpetuating those actions. We can empathise, listen, acknowledge, and change. Easy huh?

    • Amen!! When are we going to accept each other as we are and not see other racial groups as “other” people. We do have to keep the conversation going and show that we live the lives we hope for ourselves and others. We must build a community where we can all accept each other.

    • History is what makes humans human…the past – good or bad – consists of EVERYTHING to create our current reality: this how we got here to this moment.
      Just live well and with love: scars tell a story.

  • As a society we need to work hard, very hard, at exposing racism in all of its ugly forms, eliminating it and learning from that. Thank you, Ann, for what you’ve done here.

  • I moved south from Boston (a city with its own dark history of racism) to Maryland, “the South”. It is a state that had slavery. I live outside of Washington DC in the prosperous Montgomery County. I noticed a lot of private “community” pools. This was the local way to maintain segregated facilities. They are now open to everyone who wants to pay the cost of a membership. I use the county public facilities (I’m White) because they offer so much at a low cost.

  • Thank you for this post. While I agree that our government, at all levels, have acted horrifically, each and every American also bears responsibility because of the way we vote and our inability to act when we see issues. Part of the problem is we fail to look at ourselves, we are also part of the problem.

  • I was living in Memphis in 1991 when Dr. Willie Herenton became the first elected African-American Mayor. He won by 146 votes. Do not ever think your vote does not count.

  • I grew up in Tulsa OK in the 60s and never heard a thing about the Tulsa race massacre and destruction of Black Wall Street until I was well into my 50’s. It was certainly not taught in school and my high school was “slightly” integrated. It made me so ashamed to have been ignorant of something that happened in my own town, not far from where I lived, albeit long before I was born. No one talked about it beyond my parents telling me never To go to that part of town. One teacher, By the name of Eddie Faye Gates taught it in her history class. Before she died, she captured the oral history of survivors from that time and worked to establish a museum about the Greenwood Massacre. God bless her!

    • I continue to find it amazing just how hidden the history of the Tulsa massacre has been in America. But hearing that a person who grew up in Tulsa in the 70s also didn’t know about it – that’s shocking. But I guess it’s not surprising, considering how powerful the forces are that reinforce white supremacy.

  • Thank you for calling attention to this abominable part of American history that persists to this day. I also highly recommend reading “The Sum of Us” – it will enlighten and inform.

  • The Sum of Us by Heather McGhee is easily the best nonfiction book I read last year – she is a most brilliant historian and storyteller, and she inspires me to recognize what brought us here, and how we could be so much more if we come together. The zero sum game is a false concept, and giving up (my) white privilege isn’t a loss – the resulting fairness will improve everyone’s lives, including my own. Enjoy this book and the fire it lights within!

  • Thanks for this—have been waiting to address The Sum of Us with a discussion group that never seems to materialize, and the podcast removes the barrier to “reading” it, perhaps during Lent.

    I appreciate you memorializing MLK in such a way, Anne. You’ve highlighted the very conditions that MLK addressed in his work and speeches, making them more consequential.

  • Thank you for this insightful article. The gentle reminders to educate ourselves and to keep working towards how it should be are appreciated.

  • Thank you for this.

  • Thanks so much for this posting. I spent the summers in Clarksdale, Miss., in the 50’s and 60’s with my grandparents and cousins. There was a city swimming pool downtown we swam in, whites only, and I remember seeing “Negro children” around the fence looking in and I wondered why they didn’t come join us. I was told that they “didn’t know how to swim” or that they “were afraid of the water.” When desegregation came, the town filled the pool up with concrete rather than allow “the Negroes” to swim in it. I remember to this day how mean, selfish, stupid and un-Christian I felt this was as a teen, and it helped shape me and eventually my two sons into being advocates for Equality For All.

  • Thank you for bringing this conversation to mind as we celebrate MLK Day. I would like to expand it to include all peoples of color. There are many that suffer from racism in our country!

  • I agree that we should do whatever we can to preserve our history. Some middle school kids in our city found unmarked graves on a local cemetery map, and investigated beyond their class assignment. The end result was a marker for the first African American families in our city. This underscores that everyone can shine a light. The full story is here, in case anyone is interested.

  • Let us not forget that the land on which Vanderbilt’s Peabody College sits was originally the site of Roger Williams University, at one time the largest Baptist college educating African-Americans in the area. It was burned to the ground in two suspicious fires shortly before the land was put up for sale and Roger Williams University relocated. From Wikipedia:
    “The campus was sold by developers posing as a Christian missionary agency, under a restrictive covenant barring African Americans from living on the land.”
    Now that’s a land acknowledgement I’d love to see Vanderbilt make!

    • Oh my goodness!! That is a new story to me, and I was born (1948) and raised in Nashville! My mother went to Peabody College’s demonstration school for training teachers.

  • I grew up in Tulsa (we moved when I was 10) and I never heard of the Black Wall Street massacre until a few years ago. Another friend lived there until her 20’s and never heard about it either. These low points in our history need to be brought to light and acknowledged. Hopefully we can learn from them and never forget them.

  • As a non-Black POC I know that the US I experience today is because of the struggles of Black people before me. And yet, even today, I am not treated the same as they are. I don’t have to have “the talk” with my teenage son. It’s been almost three years since George Floyd was brutally murdered in my city. We still have so much work to do.

  • Thank you

  • Thank you Ann and MDK for continuing your commitment to addressing the racial divide in our country and giving us something to reflect upon on this important national holiday marking the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

  • Are you familiar with the play, “The Ripple, The Wave That Carried Me Home” by Christina Anderson, that premiered at Berkeley Repertory Theatre last fall, now being staged widely? Through the story of one family of activists, it tackles the subject of a Kansas city’s choice to close all its swimming pools instead of desegregating them.

    • I saw that at the Rep – it is a great play! I hope folks will go and see it!

      • It’s here in Chicago at the Goodman–I’m going tomorrow!

  • Thank you for reminding me why this is an important day.

  • It is horrifying – especially to those of us who didn’t know. Thank you for highlighting this Ann. And I’m so glad you changed MDK’s name a few years ago.

  • Thank you for sharing this. My husband and I are moving from Wisconsin to Denton, TX in the next few weeks. My best friend shared with me today the story she recently heard presented at a meeting about the area known as Quakertown in Denton, TX -1880’s till 1920’s. I was so saddened and appalled by the story. Please research it to bring awareness to how we treated African Americans in the 1920’s.I believe we can do so much better but it starts with knowing our past.

  • Thank-you for sharing this story. I was an adult before I realized that the reason our community had “country clubs” for swimming, tennis, and golf was to restrict who could use those amenities. In the 60s and 70s, cities in our area (Johnson County on the Kansas side of the state line in the Kansas City. MO metro) didn’t have municipal provided pools, tennis courts, golf courses, etc. That was, of course, so they didn’t have to open them to everyone. Some things have changed and improved, still lots of room to grow.

  • As an 8 year old, my husband showed up for swimming lessons one day to find the pools closed. He’s told me this story many times.
    The rest of the story is that most of those white children continued their lessons at private or neighborhood pools.
    Nashville was not alone, nor did they learn much quickly.

  • I am very alarmed that as people are finally acknowledging these abominations from the past, our children in schools will not necessarily ever learn about any of it. There was a story just last week about a classroom in Ohio where Dr. Seuss’ “The Sneetches” was being read but the reading stopped when a child made a comment comparing the Sneetches’ behavior to racism today.

  • Thank you for acknowledging racism
    in Tennessee. I am a fifth generation Californian—as racist as any southern state. We have much to atone for. We are knit together in our common humanity BC

  • Thank you for sharing.

  • In gratitude for your attention and sharing of this information, a must! The discussion and recognition is necessary, thank you.

  • Thank you for sharing this, Ann.

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