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The Nashville Way

Racial Etiquette and the Struggle for Social Justice in a Southern City

Benjamin Houston

Publication Year: 2012

Among Nashville’s many slogans, the one that best reflects its emphasis on manners and decorum is the Nashville Way, a phrase coined by boosters to tout what they viewed as the city’s amicable race relations. Benjamin Houston offers the first scholarly book on the history of civil rights in Nashville, providing new insights and critiques of this moderate progressivism for which the city has long been credited.

Civil rights leaders such as John Lewis, James Bevel, Diane Nash, and James Lawson who came into their own in Nashville were devoted to nonviolent direct action, or what Houston calls the “black Nashville Way.” Through the dramatic story of Nashville’s 1960 lunch counter sit-ins, Houston shows how these activists used nonviolence to disrupt the coercive script of day-to-day race relations. Nonviolence brought the threat of its opposite—white violence— into stark contrast, revealing that the Nashville Way was actually built on a complex relationship between etiquette and brute force. Houston goes on to detail how racial etiquette forged in the era of Jim Crow was updated in the civil rights era. Combined with this updated racial etiquette, deeper structural forces of politics and urban renewal dictate racial realities to this day.

In The Nashville Way, Houston shows that white power was surprisingly adaptable. But the black Nashville Way also proved resilient as it was embraced by thousands of activists who continued to fight battles over schools, highway construction, and economic justice even after most Americans shifted their focus to southern hotspots like Birmingham and Memphis.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Series: Politics and Culture in the Twentieth-Century South


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pp. 1-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

I gratefully acknowledge the financial support that underwrote major parts of the research and writing of this book. The McLaughlin Grant from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, University of Florida, was absolutely critical in providing a summer of intensive research in Nashville. ...

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Introduction. The Nashville Way

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pp. 1-12

Among all the vivid examples of Jim Crow–style segregation in the South, some of the ugliest were the stark white and colored signs paired with shiny or shabby restrooms and water fountains. As powerful symbols of the racial divide, these markers were all the more chilling for being so casual. ...

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One. A Manner of Segregation: Lived Race Relations and Racial Etiquette

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pp. 13-46

Someone standing by Nashville’s state capitol in the pre–World War II era could easily visualize at least some dimensions of the city’s segmentation. The building towered over downtown Nashville and the tall hills overlooking the rest of the city and the Cumberland River. ...

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Two. The Triumph of Tokenism: Public School Desegregation

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pp. 47-81

As morning dawned on September 9, 1957, nineteen African American six-year-olds tightly gripped the hands of their elders as they made their way to new and unfamiliar schools. Rocks, spit, and insults cascaded through the air as policemen, protesters, and parents flanked their paths. ...

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Three. The Shame and the Glory: The 1960 Sit-ins

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pp. 82-122

The shattering sound of crashing plates in February 1960 signaled that something unusual was happening in downtown Nashville. “They must have dropped two thousand dollars’ worth of dishes that day. It was almost like a cartoon,” remembers student leader Diane Nash. ...

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Four. The Kingdom or Individual Desires?: Movement and Resistance during the 1960s

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pp. 123-163

On a Sunday in 1961, “John Barnett” decided to worship at a downtown Presbyterian church in “Knoshville, Kennessina.” A black New Englander who had left his church back home to study at seminary, he was happy for the chance “to be a listener instead of a pastor.” ...

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Five. Black Power/White Power: Militancy in Late 1960s Nashville

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pp. 164-201

During an early evening in April 1967, as Jefferson Street seethed with unrest, milling groups of African American students watched and occasionally joined in as some of their peers hurled contempt at helmeted riot squads. As police lights cast ominous flickering colors over the scene, a middle-aged African American leader pleaded for calm over a borrowed bullhorn, ...

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Six. Cruel Mockeries: Renewing a City

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pp. 202-234

Just months after being assaulted with a rock to the head in North Nashville, Edwin Mitchell accepted an invitation to speak before the Nashville Chamber of Commerce in October 1967. It was a fraught moment in Nashville’s racial history given changes slowly becoming visible across the city and, even at a formal event, Mitchell was not willing to mince words. ...

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Epilogue. Achieving Justice

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pp. 235-242

A 1963 New York Herald Tribune article implicitly extolled the white Nashville Way as the reason why Nashville was the “most desegregated city in the South.” The author observed that “one thing [Nashville] cannot abide is unpleasantness. It values peace and quiet as Birmingham, to the south, values separate water fountains and defiance.” ...


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pp. 243-294


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pp. 295-310


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pp. 311-320

E-ISBN-13: 9780820343280
E-ISBN-10: 0820343285
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820343266
Print-ISBN-10: 0820343269

Page Count: 344
Illustrations: 10 b&w photos, 2 maps
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Politics and Culture in the Twentieth-Century South