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Nashville Conference on African-American History and Culture

Nashville Conference on African-American History and Culture

For over thirty years, the Metropolitan Historical Commission and Tennessee State University have celebrated the contributions of African Americans to Nashville and Tennessee through the Nashville Conference on African-American History and Culture. Each February, Nashvillians come together to honor these individuals through historical and cultural presentations by historians, artists, students, dramatists, musicians, genealogists, and others interested in the history of our city and state. The long-running series, Profiles of African Americans in Tennessee, a collection of almost two hundred short publications, makes the Conference research available to the public.

2015 Conference

Mark your calendars now for Friday, February 13, for the Nashville Conference on African-American History and Culture. The 2015 conference continues its long-standing tradition, focusing this year on unsung heroes in Tennessee's cultural history from slavery through the 20th century. The speakers scheduled for this year include Belmont professor and noted author Dr. Sybril Bennett, and Tennessee State Historian Dr. Carroll Van West. Continuing the Conference’s long-standing commitment to honoring the contributions of African Americans to Nashville’s cultural scene, the Nashville Public Library’s Wishing Chair Productions will stage “Anasazi the Spider,” in honor of the rich story-telling traditions of the African-American community.

New this year will be the airing of the winning student documentaries from 2014’s Tennessee History Day competition. Students from Memphis and Knoxville received honors for the best Tennessee projects in African-American History, sponsored by the Nashville Conference Committee, at the 2014 competition. These students will be honored for their work, and their documentaries will be screened at the conference.

The full conference program and registration form will be available here in late December 2014.

2014 Conference

The 2014 conference was held on Friday, February 14, with a focus on the educational and musical legacies of Nashville’s African-American community to our city and state.

Dr. Sonya Ramsey of the University of North Carolina-Charlotte discussed on the legacy of African-American schoolteachers in Nashville, the subject of her recent book, Reading, Writing, and Segregation: A Century of Black Women Schoolteachers in Nashville. Several of Ramsey’s interviews come from our own Conference attendees. Ramsey’s book has been called “groundbreaking” and “fascinating” by reviewers.

Dr. Don Cusic of Belmont University spoke on educator, poet, and activist James Weldon Johnson. Janet Walsh with the TSU Libraries and Beverly Robertson with the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis highlighted the research and interpretation of the African-American experience at their institutions. In commemoration of the Sesquicentennial year of the Battle of Nashville in the American Civil War, Norm Hill joined Dr. Tim Johnson in a discussion of the Civil War experiences of Nashville’s African Americans during the Battle of Nashville.

2013 Conference

The 2013 Conference was held on Friday, February 8, 2013 and focused on political, social, and artistic legacies of the African-American community in Nashville.

As Nashville celebrated the 50th anniversary of Metropolitan government in 2013, Dr. Reavis Mitchell of Fisk University analyzed the impact of the governmental consolidation on the city’s African American community. Additionally, in honor of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, Dan Pomeroy of the Tennessee State Museum examined the effect of the Emancipation Proclamation in Tennessee. Other speakers included Ophelia Paine, former staff member at the Metropolitan Nashville Historical Commission and former Commissioner with the Tennessee Historical Commission, and Dr. Stacey Graham of the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee State University. Mrs. Paine and Dr. Graham both discussed aspects of the impact of the Civil War on the African American homefront community in Middle Tennessee.

2012 Conference

Registrants at ConferenceThe 31st annual Nashville Conference on African-American History and Culture celebrated the Centennial of Tennessee State University. Founded in 1912 as Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State Normal School, TSU has been known as Tennessee State University since 1970. TSU offers bachelors, masters, and doctoral degrees in a variety of fields, and is known nationally for its academic and athletic excellence. Presentations at the 2012 conference highlighted the history of TSU, including the role of women administrators, student life, and athletics. TSU students and faculty presented musical selections, presented by both the TSU Jazz Ensemble and the TSU Meistersingers. We hope you joined us in celebrating the contributions of Tennessee State University to Nashville, to the state, and to the nation. The conference was held on February 10, 2012, at the Tennessee State University downtown campus, at the corner of 10th and Charlotte.

History of the Conference

In 1981, a group of Nashville historians began discussing the possibility of holding an all-day conference for the purpose of presenting papers, projects, and activities related to local African-American culture and history. Although African Americans had been vital to the growth and development of Nashville, little information about their contributions was readily available to the public. The founding members of the planning committee -- Bobby L. Lovett (Tennessee State University), Lois C. McDougald (Tennessee State University), May Dean Coop Eberling (Metropolitan Historical Commission), and Linda T. Wynn (Tennessee Historical Commission) -- conceived the conference as a way of bringing these stories to light through an event that would have broad appeal for the community. Through their efforts, the annual Afro-American Culture and History Conference began on September 9, 1981.

Renamed the Conference on African-American History and Culture in 2003, the Conference has continued to bring together historians, educators, students, and other individuals interested in how African Americans shaped the history of Nashville and Tennessee. Speakers come from all walks of life and include family historians, church historians, and high school teachers as well as college and university professors and graduate students. Each year's program blends information and enrichment with cultural entertainment.

Attendees at ConferenceThe Conference differs from traditional academic gatherings in that cultural entertainment and art have always figured prominently in the program. Integrating cultural expressions of black history has involved students as performers from a variety of college and high school ensembles like the Fisk Jubilee Singers, the TSU Meistersingers, the Whites Creek High School Marching Band, and the Fisk University Stagecrafters. The Conference has also hosted professional entertainers of national acclaim, including the Princely Players and the Fairfield Four. Tennessee State University has always had a strong art program and through the efforts of several art professors and curators, the Conference has developed a special focus on visual arts. Many of the conference profiles and presentations have featured notable artists such as William Edmonson, Aaron Douglas, Frances Thompson, and Greg Ridley.

Profiles of African Americans in Tennessee

A primary aim of the conference is to encourage new research into local African-American history and make that research accessible to all. Over the past thirty years, almost 200 "Profiles of African Americans in Nashville and Tennessee" have been produced. Dr. Bobby L. Lovett and Linda T. Wynn edited a collection of 99 of these short publications for Profiles of African Americans in Tennessee, a bicentennial book project of the Conference published in 1996. Profiles and other research resources are available on the Tennessee State University library website: Profiles of African Americans in Tennessee

Profiles of African Americans in Tennessee