I had heard that Nashville owned slaves, but the story I was told was that it was just a small group of men who installed the water lines and did some maintenance on the roads and then Nashville got out of the slave-owning business by 1830. George Zepp’s excellent book suggested that wasn’t the whole story. But I kind of didn’t really let that sink in. But then there’s all this Ani DiFranco nonsense and, while I agree that there’s no need for social-justice song-writing retreats at plantations that gloss over their history and are owned by rightwing assholes, I kept thinking about Nashville–which doesn’t really acknowledge that it was even in the slave-owning business, that the water you’re drinking when you stay downtown is because of those men. And we’re governed by right-wing assholes. Sure, not at the city level, but at the state.
And I’m not trying to say, then, that it’s too hard to deal with slavery so it’s fine if Ani DiFranco wants to fart around at a plantation all weekend. I’m trying to come at it from the other direction–what she intended to do was obviously bullshit. But social justice icons play Nashville all the time. Hell, some of them play the Ryman, with its Confederate balcony. I don’t want to ask them not to play Nashville, to not play the Ryman. I don’t have a good reason why Nottoway is off-limits, but Nashville is okay. I just, honestly, want it to be that way.
But I also wonder why we don’t ask these big names, the ones who are devoted to social justice, to bring pressure on the city to acknowledge its direct complicity in slavery? Not just as a place where slaveowners lived, but as a slaveowner itself.
The Nashville City Cemetery shows that the story I was told about slavery in Nashville is a lie. I wrote them and asked them who “the corporation” was and the woman who wrote me back knew because The Corporation had owned the Cemetery back then–because it was the city. And so there are Nashville’s slaves, dying in the cholera epidemic in ’49 and later. And there’s a woman. Look at how young they are.