All young people in Nashville now
can learn, play and work together
Photo: AP/Josh Anderson
To commemorate Black History month, parents can sit down with their teens and really discuss all of the privileges and opportunities that our millenials take for granted. Surely, we don't want to dwell on the negativity of Nashville's segregated era; but it is also important to remember that life used to be different for teens in the 1950's, to know how far we have come, and understand a clear pathway for the future.
Life for teens in Nashville in the 1950's was similar to the 21st century in the sense that teens then had some of the same aspirations, dreams, and goals as today. Teens wanted to grow up healthy, make their parents proud of them, and many wanted to continue thier education beyond high school, to become a specialist, a doctor, a math teacher, or an engineer. Although there were young women in Nashville who went on to college, many preferred to get married and began raising a family. One key difference in teens of today and those of 1950s was public life. Legal separation of the races (and that meant Asian, Latino, and African Americans) was the rule of the day. This separation or segregation was on the law books and enforceable by local authorities. If a person crossed the line, he or she would be arrested, could stand trial, and be sent to jail. Legal segregation included public buses, stores, amusements, entertainment, and public parks, as well as education, most Black teens had to travel many miles from home for attendance at one of two schools designated for people of color.
Many of our teens have heard this history, but in our fast-paced technological world, they may find it hard to grasp the social and emotional impact without concrete examples (i.e. instant gratification). One website, Nashville Memories, lists many examples of fun places that white teens could go regularly for fun, a date, or to exercise. They were downtown retailers who had special offerings for young people, such as Harvey's which boasted live monkeys running through the store, cinemas that also had soda fountains, and many skating rinks, public parks, and swimming pools. Now ask your teen to imagine not being able to enjoy any of the fun, except on certain days, called Colored Only Days. And in the case of the swimming pools, you could see other teens swim, but if you were of color, you were legally unable to join in. How would your teen have been affected? How do you think they would have felt?
It is important, however, not to leave your teen with this dismal picture of American life. One of the unrelenting bright spots about Americans and about Nashvillians is our ability to dream, invent, and experiment. Have your teen imagine what they would have done if they were an adult in the 1950s faced with legal segregation and how they would have brought it to an end. Have them also think about the present and the current issues that impact an equal education for all in Metro Nashville Public Schools. Let them know that their voices matters and they do have a right to let the school board and the Superintendent know how they feel through letters or emails. Most importantly, have your teen dream of the Nashville of the future. What will it be like for their children and grandchildren? How will life have improved and what would they like to see done differently? Remember along with attorneys like Mr. Z. Alexander Looby, Nashville's public places and schools were desegregated by youth, college students and little girls and boys as young as six years old in elementary schools such as Bailey, Fehr, Hattie Cotton, and Jones. If those young people changed our city with a made-up mind and vey little resources, the possibilities for change with our contemporary teens are endless.