Friday, September 02, 2011

One eyewitness's snapshot of the Nashville power structures during desegregation

The 54th anniversary of the desegregation of Nashville public schools is upon us. I have been reflecting on that tumultuous history and catching up on accounts of the time. I came across this interview with one of my favorite authors, Will Campbell, a white preacher and writer who acted as a kind of scout for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He has some interesting insights not just on how the entrenched wealthy class in Nashville used poor whites to do their dirty work, but also on the influence of the news media within the halls of municipal government:

[Benjamin] Houston: Where do you think that the power was in Nashville, based on your behind-the-scenes understanding? Where were the bases of power in Nashville in terms of running the city? ....
Campbell: A man who was the chairman of the board of trustees at Vanderbilt University was the publisher of the Nashville Banner.
Houston: [James G.] Stahlman.
Campbell: Jimmy Stahlman. He was by far the most powerful man in Nashville. He had allies, certainly, in high places, but that's partly because those allies were the ones who had stock in the Nashville Banner and he was beholden to them, the Nashville Life and Accident Insurance Company and so on. The governor at that time [Frank G. Clement], he was a good man who just wanted the controversy to all go away. He did not want protests to be happening, but he knew that he couldn't stop it.
Houston: You have commented elsewhere that politics in Nashville were fairly modern for their time in the 1950s, and yet the social and cultural mentality was much more conservative. Can you elaborate on that dynamic?
Campbell: What was it, ten or twelve, the Fugitives?
Houston: Twelve, the Agrarians.
Campbell: Yes, who were intellectuals, and they were widely respected. People would say, "he is a great poet, he is a great man, a great writer." And they couldn't go on to say, "but he is a bigot. He doesn't like black people, and he doesn't like poor people." That's another thing that troubles me . . .  Whites didn't realize that the very people who were recruiting them for the White Citizens' Council wouldn't wipe their feet on them, and used them only for their cause.
Have the power alignments and the tools of wealth in post-segregation Nashville changed much since 1957?


  1. And just who is the man behind the curtain, actually calling the shots for the city of Nashville today?

    Who is the most powerful? I would love to open the discussion on this blog.

  2. Here is an another example of Nashville old timers doing the dirty work so that the wealthy can appoint one of the insiders to control another department in Metro.

    Mayor’s Office aide Jim Hester is set to move to the Metro Parks and Recreation Department as special assistant to the parks director beginning next week, The City Paper has learned.

    Just another way to eliminate checks and balances within local government and destroy the fairgrounds.

    Petition for recall of the mayor needed.

  3. There are a handful of people behind the curtain pulling on ropes and desperately figuring out which Klieg lights need to be turned on.

    The fairgrounds and raceway issue turned into a huge fiasco for Dean and the aforementioned staff shift is just one example of the repercussions that are quietly affecting the Dean administration.

    Dean has proven that he is entirely inept at "running the show." He is likely huddled under the stage with the show's financiers, trying to figure out which new actors will be sent up onto the stage.

    And while Nashville's pot-holes grow in numbers, the "Nashville Broadway" financiers are desperately running around asking "Who can we get to wear the Spiderman suit?"

  4. At least back then, people knew who the big power-brokers were.

    Neighborhoods had their own "small-time" power-brokers who could get together and pull rank on the big boys when they got out of control.

    Now we have people like Dean, Barry and Steine (as well as the community of soccer moms and their ball-less husbands) who are trying to gentrify our entire town.

    These carpet-baggers need to be taught a lesson with some real, street-fighting politics.

    I think Dean just learned his lesson (to some degree), but I hope people like Jamie Hollin keep the boxing gloves laced on tight.

    I also hope Jimmy Lewis comes out of retirement and throws in for a few rounds.

    The elites are going TOO far with things and they are WAY out of touch with the people.

    They do NOT appreciate the black community, working class whites or the working class immigrants. Nor do they even understand middle class folks in neighborhoods like the 37212 (NOT ALL OF US WANT A STARBUCKS IN OUR NEIGHBORHOOD).

    We NOW have a wonderful library, The Frist, The Symphony Hall, a hockey arena and a football stadium. What the HELL else do these ELITES want?

    Oh, yeah. Something to put on their resumes for the next run for office.

    Forget schools, pot-holes, traffic-control, the fairgrounds, fixing up sidewalks and street lights...we need a minor league baseball stadium!!!