Metro proposal plans to reconnect North Nashville decades after I-40 divided communities

Posted at 8:09 PM, Jun 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-18 21:10:59-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn (WTVF) — When construction began on I-40 more than 50 years ago, the intention was to bridge communities across Middle Tennessee. But instead, it divided one: the community of North Nashville.

Before this interstate was built, North Nashville was home to Black businesses, black homeowners and Black pride.

Dr. Learotha Williams is an associate professor of African-American and public history at Tennessee State University.

"This interstate physically separated the community," said Williams, "Just drive around North Nashville and noticed how many dead-end streets there are."

Williams says neighborhoods are like people, they are born, they grow up and sometimes they die. He says that's what happened to North Nashville more than 50 years ago.

Between 1935 to 1965, North Nashville was an affluent Black middle-class community.

"The Del Morocco set right across the street there and it was a place more than anything else that demonstrated the intimate relationship that these businesses had with the community," Williams said.

According to Metro Nashville, The construction of Interstate 40 and Interstate 265 now Interstate 65 -- in the 1960’s displaced 1,400 residents, businesses, churches and pride.

Dividing the community where even streets now lead nowhere.

"On one hand we have something that was supposed to make the community better but on another hand, it devastates it. "

Williams many in the community didn't know about the construction until it was too late.

"I think what's so frustrating is that you have some residents from the community who informed the city of this, they informed the state of this, they even gone to court, but they don’t prevail."

But Metro Nashville is trying to right a wrong. A proposal would place an interstate cap over I-40 from Dr. D. B. Todd Jr. Blvd. to 17th Avenue North. It will also revitalize historical Jefferson Street.

A cap is typically some sort of usable space, like a park, built over an interstate to connect two areas.

It would also add a more visually appealing link for Meharry Medical College, Fisk University and North Nashville and lastly, investing in more affordable housing.

"This conversation about the destruction of the community begins with I 40 anime very well, the distraction may be depleted it with the project that involves I-40," Williams.

He says the plan will only work if the community has a say in the developments.