restricted access Epilogue. Achieving Justice
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E P I L O G U E Achieving Justice People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them. —James Baldwin, “Stranger in a Village,” 1953 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.” Indeed, the writer was quite taken with the difference: “a traveler from Birmingham is struck immediately by the contrasts of Nashville. It takes a day or so to adjust to it. Of course Nashville has had a long history of graciousness while Birmingham has no history at all.” This meant that for African Americans, “‘their battle is won here,’” according to Mayor Ben West, dubbed an “old friend of the Negro community.” Black minister Metz Rollins responded to this characterization by snorting that “these people here got to believing their own press clippings about how progressive they were.” But he qualified his instinctive derision: “the only difference between Nashville and Birmingham is one of degree. . . . of course I have to admit that difference is like night and day.” Within the paradoxes of these comments lies the strange intersection of the black and white Nashville Ways, the interplay between whites and blacks trapped in segregated legacies. That opinion on Nashville’s racial climate could agree and yet differ so sharply signals that something more complicated was at work. This book has tried to evoke how the lived realities of segregation were replicated in individual and collective ways as African Americans fought against and protected themselves from a system that every day tried to cheapen their lives and humanity . The elaborate facade that whites constructed in daily racial etiquette, creating a social world where interpretations of how individuals acted or reacted only perpetuated deeper fictions about race, conditioned responses that relentlessly 236 · E P I L O G U E maintained social distance. This was replicated on a broader scale with changing racial and urban patterns defending against black activism. Shifts in racial law and racial custom over time marked the protean character of white supremacy, even as African Americans continued and reinvented the struggle with each generation, balancing individual survival with a wide array of tactics on behalf of a broader bid for racial freedom. That cultural myths about race and whiteness persisted in these years is perhaps best displayed by country music, which had been part of Nashville’s identity since the early part of the twentieth century. Of course this genre had always blended elements of white and black musical traditions, even as its hillbilly roots had been superficially identified with whites. In 1979, venerable traditionalist and country music star Porter Waggoner facilitated a performance by James Brown, the famed Godfather of Soul, at the Grand Ole Opry. The concert was met with coolness from the audience (and hate mail, too, according to one account). Music star Del Wood said “I’m against James Brown’s music on the stage of the Opry because I love the Opry and what it stands for.” Such responses were not anomalies. As black country music star Cleve Francis relates, a meeting with record executives as he lobbied for increased representation of black music stars in the industry was met dismissively. Said one, “This may be the last thing that white people got.” Indeed , the Grand Ole Opry mirrored broader trends when it relocated to suburban Nashville. Over the course of the 1970s, little changed as aspects of race relations continued echoing the past. Schools, as in the 1950s, often took the focus, and made for an uneasy racial environment. While relationships among children in the schools varied widely, there was a trend toward voluntary social segregation. Despite some newspaper articles glowing about a school’s interracial cast in a production of The Sound Of Music, for example, there were far more muted admissions from students that a quiet truce prevailed in classrooms. “It’s not hostility,” said one student , “We don’t like them and they don’t like us.” Said another, “There’s still a lot of tension, even though people won’t admit it.” Yet there were also hints that the children’s racial notions were not the only factor in play. Some people “didn’t want poor white folks, let alone blacks,” and class issues persisted because “in...


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