NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A Tennessee State University (TSU) professor and historian archived unheard local Nashvillians' Civil Rights Movement stories in a public app.
"This app will provide an opportunity to ask better questions about Nashville's history or to gain a deeper understanding of Nashville's history," explained Dr. Learotha Williams Jr., Tennessee State University African American and Public History associate professor and North Nashville Heritage project coordinator.
The project started in his classroom.
"[It] started out as an accident. I want to say because North Nashville project came in to being in 2010, because the student asked me a question that I couldn't answer. I was like, 'OK, well, we'll find out together,'" recounted Williams.
The app, set to launch in May 2022, will feature images, photographed artifacts, audio and video interviews telling the stories of Nashvillians who provide more context to the Civil Rights Movement beyond the leaders taught in history books.
"I look for marginalized voices, people that we may have overlooked or just discarded," Williams explained.
Williams said he found those voices in barbershops, at lunch counters and in the back of a room trying to stay unnoticed.
"It’s given me an opportunity, I think, to share the rich history of this university, along with it's very intimate relationship with the North Nashville community," said Williams. "I tell my students that one of the greatest dramas in Civil Rights history played out on Jefferson Street in terms of how we define ourselves as Americans in terms of how we envision what democracy looks like, and of course, the protests. This area between Jefferson Street and between and downtown is a grand stage of the American story."
Williams said his goal is to make those stories accessible through the multi-media app and help Tennesseans realize how integral TSU was to the Civil Rights Movement in Nashville.
"This is very needed. Because we need different ways to tell stories to wider audiences and just to make the history more accessible," said Williams. "TSU has something to say about the how Nashville evolved the place that we know today."
Williams stressed the project will never be complete as new stories may be added to continue to paint a clearer picture of the movement in Nashville.
"Our students who were 20 years old at the time, they are in their 70s and getting up in their 80s and there are some interviews that I've missed," explained Williams, "Then, you know, they're gone. So will their stories be buried at Greenwood Cemetery with them. So, there's an urgency there. I'm hoping that this app will maybe catch their attention and then say okay, well, ‘I have something to say about this.’"
To submit a story that provides context to the Civil Rights Movement in Nashville, email Williams and the North Nashville Heritage Project: firstname.lastname@example.org.