Posts tagged: Nashville & Nashvillians

Josephine Groves Holloway, Girl Scout Hero

By , January 22, 2016

BN 1963-1091-6 Girl Scout Award“If you could see Camp Holloway, tour its area, have its program explained to you…you would never duck for cover when the Girl Scouts literally swarm your community at their cookie sale time. You would rush to participate in this program that is so clearly dedicated to the proposition of moulding young women to habits of honorable and purposeful citizenship.” – Robert Churchwell, Nashville Banner, July 13, 1960

* * *

Girl Scout Cookies have been helping troops across the country raise money since 1917, but not every girl has always been welcome in the organization. In Nashville, it wasn’t until 1942 that Josephine Groves Holloway successfully registered the first African American Girl Scout troop.

Holloway (pictured above) was working at Nashville’s Bethlehem Center when she first became interested in getting the young girls she worked with involved with the Girl Scouts. In 1924 she attended training with founder Juliette Gordon Low at George Peabody College for Teachers and started an unofficial troop. Even though her request to start an official troop was denied, that didn’t stop her from obtaining a copy of the Girl Scout handbook and using it with her girls.

Due to Holloway’s persistence and an increasing pressure from the national office to combat discrimination, the local council granted her request in 1942 and Troop 200 became Nashville’s first African American Girl Scout Troop. The foundation laid by Holloway in the black community contributed to a total of thirteen new troops in the eighteen months that followed, but segregation was still a reality and made activities like camping difficult.

During this time many state parks were closed to African Americans, but in 1951 land was purchased so that young black Girl Scouts in Middle Tennessee would have a place to camp. Named after its Nashville leader, Camp Holloway opened in Millersville, Tennessee in 1955 thanks to money gained from – you guessed it – cookie sales.  Today, Girl Scouts of all races and backgrounds enjoy the historic camp.

Holloway is a graduate of Fisk University and Tennessee A&I. She is also the first black professional Girl Scout employee in Middle Tennessee, holding positions as field advisor, district director, and camp director. She retired in 1963, but continued her community service and organized the first tuition-free volunteer tutoring program at Pearl High School and Head Elementary.  During the U.S. Bicentennial in 1976 she was honored with the “Hidden Heroine” award and in 1991 the new Girl Scout headquarters on Granny White Pike opened the Josephine G. Holloway Historical Collection and Gallery.

As you order your Girl Scout Cookies this year, remember the legacy of Josephine Groves Holloway.

BN 1960-1811-9 AA Girl Scout Camp

Camp Holloway, 1960. Nashville Banner Archives.

For more information:

Trial and Triumph: Essays in Tennessee’s African American History
A History of the Cumberland Valley Girl Scout Movement

Savor Summer: Nashville Brews

By , August 2, 2015

Nashville Beer coverThirty years before William Gerst entered into Nashville history, the city’s first brewery, the Nashville Brewery, opened on South High and Mulberry Streets at what would become the Gerst Brewing Company’s future home.

Gerst came from a brewing family in Bavaria and after coming to the United States in 1866, found employment at the Christian Moerlein Brewing Company in Cincinnati, Ohio. Gerst and Moerlein acquired the old Nashville Brewery property in 1890 and in 1893, Gerst became the sole owner.

When the state got ready to celebrate its centennial in 1897, Gerst saw an opportunity to market his product. He became involved in the exposition’s planning and made sure Gerst beer was available for purchase at local restaurants. His beer also won the gold medal at the exposition’s competition in which it was the only local brew.

Even though the brewery’s been out of business since 1954, today you can experience a taste of history with Yazoo’s Gerst Amber Ale – a brew made possible by a partnership between the local brewery and owners of the Gerst Haus Restaurant. In fact, folks can enjoy a variety of local craft beers from Yazoo to Jackalope to Fat Bottom to Black Abbey and many more. One of my personal favorites is the May Day Brewery in Murfreesboro. If you’re over 21, pick one, take a tour, and treat yourself to a tasting! Friday just happens to be International Beer Day.

If more knowledge is what you’re thirsting for, Nashville Beer: A Heady History of Music City Brewing and Nashville Brewing offer a spectacular look into the city’s rich brewing history including tons of great photos and ads, some of which come from the library’s Special Collections.

Other heady resources:
Encyclopedia of Beer
Drink: A Social History of America

Gerst Color

Brittingham, John. “Gerst Beer Heyday: 1890-1917.” Nashville Banner 6 Apr. 1976: 16-D.

Wm. Gerst Brewing Comp page29, 1st fl and 2nd fl

Nashville in the Twentieth Century. 1900: 29.

Savor Summer: Chefs and the Community

By , July 13, 2015

Women in KitchenThe kitchen was the gathering place in my home growing up so food always plays prominently in my family memories, like the way eating a chocolate chip cookie always feels like getting a great big hug! But since leaving my parents’ home, my husband and I have enjoyed exploring the local restaurant scene in Nashville. And who wouldn’t?? This year Nashville has been ranked in the top ten on Zagat’s “New Hot Food Cities”, number 11 on Travel+Leisure’s “Best Cities for Foodies” and second “Most Barbeque Obsessed City” by Heck, one of our local chefs is even on Food Network Star!

One of the reasons I love eating out in this city is that it feels like my dad cooked those meals for me. Not so much in the quality or type of food, but in the way it makes me feel. Local chefs focus on cooking for the community like they are your family. For instance, in an interview with David Swett, Jr he talked about the way they have cooked at Swett’s since his grandfather started the restaurant.

Swett Brothers. Photo from restaurant courtesy of Trip Advisor

Swett Brothers. Photo from restaurant courtesy of Trip Advisor

We cook everyday as if we are cooking for our own family. That’s just the way we go about it. We require that from the people that are cooking in the kitchen. If you cook like you are cooking for somebody you love, you always do a good job. 

- David Swett, Jr

This focus on cooking with love has led to three generations of Swett family members serving up barbeque to students at nearby Fisk University, Tennessee State University, Meharry Medical College and Vanderbilt University.

Newer Nashvillians are also adopting this philosophy for their businesses. Javaneh Hemmat, founder of Hummus Chick, channels her Persian roots and passion for cooking for friends into every batch of hummus she makes.

Javaneh Hemmat

Javaneh Hemmat

 Did you know that when we were living in that loft, making hummus was one of the first things I ever learned to make? And today, it’s become my business – my little company, Hummus Chic., I remember every batch I made I would try to make it better than the last one. And I loved sharing it with you and my friends and it created a community around us.

- Javaneh Hemmat

Nashville may be growing, but it is becoming a foodie destination at least in part because of the love local chefs have for our city and the ways they create food that creates community.

What is your favorite food memory? Share it in the comments below or with #SavorSummer

For more of David Swett’s interview or interviews with other restaurateurs and business leaders, check out the Nashville Business Leaders Oral History Collection in the Special Collections Division or hear clips in our digital collection.

Javaneh Hemmat was interviewed as part of the New Faces of Nashville Oral History Collection, accessible in the Special Collections Division at the Main Library.

Also check out “Nashville Eats,” an oral history project by the Southern Foodways Alliance, conducted partly in partnership with Nashville Public Library.

Happy Eating!


Bessie Smith, Empress of the Blues

By , June 26, 2015

Bessie Smith photo by Van Vechten, Carl - Library of CongressLegendary blues singer Bessie Smith was born in 1894 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She performed on the vaudeville circuit and was one of the first African American vocalists to be recorded (along with Nashville’s Fisk Jubilee Singers). She signed with Columbia Records in 1923 and soon became known as the “greatest and highest salaried race star in the world,” selling over 4 million records between 1924 and 1929.

Bessie’s song, “Backwater Blues,” recorded in February of 1927, is believed to be about the Nashville Flood of 1926. She was scheduled to start performances at Nashville’s Bijou Theatre on December 30 and would have arrived in town in the aftermath of the Christmas Day flood. Music scholar David Evans revealed this discovery during a blues class at Vanderbilt in 2004.

NR Postcard Collection - 036e - Bijou Th., Nash, TN

Last month HBO premiered a biopic of the singer, directed by Nashville native Dee Rees. When asked why it was so important for her to tell Bessie’s story, Rees told Madame Noire,

“My grandmother played her records, my mom played her. There’s this album that they had called One Mo Time, that was recorded from a 1979 a Black Vaudeville kind of sendup. And so that was something I remembered as a kid. So I was always curious about her life. She was a woman from Tennessee, a Black woman, a queer woman from Tennessee, who wasn’t afraid to be who she was.”

Interested in learning more about Bessie Smith? Make it part of your Summer Challenge!

Read about Bessie:

Blues Empress in Black Chattanooga: Bessie Smith and the Emerging Urban South
Blues Legacies & Black Feminism

Listen to Bessie:

“Backwater Blues” on The Essential Bessie Smith
“My Man Blues” on the One Mo’Time Original Cast Album

Visit a museum honoring Bessie:

The Bessie Smith Cultural Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee

Immigrant Heritage Month

By , June 16, 2015

Two women smileJune is Immigrant Heritage Month, a time to look at the diversity and similarities in our community and revel in the ways that we all come together. Sometimes finding our immigrant ancestors involves hours of genealogical research to go back generations. My immigrant ancestors, for instance, were farmers that could not pay their taxes in England so they were shipped to Georgia on debtor boats when we were still British colonies.

Other times, immigrant ancestors are much closer to us – mothers, fathers, grandmas or grandpas. You may even be an immigrant! Nashville has a rapidly growing number of residents that are immigrants or the children of immigrants. These individuals bring new traditions, music, food, and languages to our community and help to make Nashville such a desirable place to live.

Recently, Nashville Public Library worked with StoryCorps @ your library to record oral history interviews with these community members. We talked to more than 60 people from 30 different countries and got a glimpse into the lives of immigrants in our community.

Listen to the clips below to learn more about some immigrants turned Nashvillians.

Take Oscar for instance. He came to Nashville from Mexico as a small child and talks about his experience attending college at Lipscomb University and working toward a better future.

Or Kahin, a Kurdish-American that struggles with “mentally identifying with both nations” while physically only being in one.

Or Paul, who met his wife in Ireland while she was studying abroad and decided to move back to the United States with her. When he attended his citizenship ceremony, he was sworn in with around 800 other Tennessee residents.

These are just a few of the many stories that are part of this collection. Participants talked about love, family, education, identity, and lose – all universal human experiences. You can hear more stories on the Mayor’s Office of New Americans webpage. Or check out the New Faces of Nashville Collection in the Special Collections Division at the Main Library.

For more information about Immigrant Heritage Month, visit

Everyone has an immigration story. Share yours in the comments or post with #IHM2015 @nowatnpl

- Amber

Superheroes of the Civil Rights Movement

By , May 22, 2015

March book coverWho do you think of when you hear the word “superhero?” Spider Man? Wonder Woman? The Hulk? How about someone like John Lewis?

Leaders of the Civil Rights Movement are superheroes, too. They may not have Spidey senses or a magic lasso, but their fight for justice and equality in the 1950s and 60s is no less powerful.

As a leader of the Nashville lunch counter sit-ins Mr. Lewis showed courage and strength and has continued to advocate for justice throughout his career, including in his current role as Congressman for Georgia’s Fifth District. Details about his experiences and inspiration can be found in his memoirs, March – a trilogy of graphic novels that tell his story.

When asked why he chose the medium of graphic novels he responded,

“I wanted to make it plain, clear, and simple for another generation to understand not just my story, but the story of a long and ongoing struggle to bring about justice in America. To make America better for young children, but also for teachers and another generation to feel what happened and how it happened in the long struggle to redeem the soul of America.”

March: Book One and March: Book Two are available for checkout from the library. Read them with your child for Summer Challenge and take a field trip to The Civil Rights Room.

Want to extend the discussion at home? Here are some suggestions:

Book Discussion
Pick out a teaching moment and have an in-depth discussion. For example, pages 50-52 of Book One explain how hard John Lewis fought for his education.

Read the pages together and discuss the importance and privileges of education while negotiating parameters around your child’s own values. Ask:

  • Why is school so important to Mr. Lewis? Is school important to you? Why or why not?
  • What do you think about Mr. Lewis disobeying his parents?
  • What kind of things are important to you and why?

Activity: What Would You Do?
Encourage your child to be their own superhero. Print out this activity sheet and ask them to draw what they would do in the situation. Discuss the image and reinforce the nonviolent approach taken by Martin Luther King, Jr. and all of the Civil Rights leaders. When they’ve finished their comic, ask them to tell their story and follow-up with a couple questions:

  • Have you ever been in a situation like this? What role were you in? How did it make you feel or how do you think it would make you feel?
  • Is it sometimes hard to stand up for yourself and/or others? Why?
  • What should you remember in situations like this one?

Finally, reiterate John Lewis’ message of the importance of speaking up for what you believe is right.

John Lewis Quote 1

Hume-Fogg History

By , May 11, 2015
Individual photos of senior class

Fogg School Class of 1902.

As the school year comes to a close, many families are thinking about more than just summer vacation. Thousands of seniors throughout Davidson County will graduate this month and move on to new adventures. Some of those students will graduate from Hume-Fogg High School which has a rich history of educating Nashvillians.

In 1855, the Hume School opened as the first public school in Nashville. Over the next several decades, the school grew and eventually merged with the Fogg School in 1912 in a new building. This remains the site of Hume-Fogg Magnet High School today. The school has seen many changes over the last 160 years, including a technical and vocational school, a comprehensive high school, and industrial training for adults during World War II. The records of Hume-Fogg are housed at the school and the Nashville Public Library.

Program cover

The commencement program for the 1900 graduation ceremony at Fogg High School, founded in 1875

Class photo, 1897

The Junior A class of the Fogg School in 1897.

Inside of a program

Program for the 1933 Commencement of Hume-Fogg High School, held at the Ryman Auditorium.

Diploma and course list

1933 Diploma from Hume-Fogg High School, note the classes listed on the left including salesmanship, commercial law, and military training







































Aircraft building instructions

War Production Training Program Template. During WWII, Hume-Fogg hosted technical training for adults teaching skills to help the war effort. This template gives basic instructions on creating sheet metal for an aircraft.




















For more information about Hume-Fogg High School, visit the Special Collections to explore the collection or visit Hume Fogg’s website.

- Amber


Historic Nashville Inc. Downtown Survey

By , April 13, 2015

Historic Nashville, Inc., (HNI) documents and preserves the cultural, historical, and architectural heritage of Nashville. HNI has been instrumental in saving some of Nashville’s most iconic and historic buildings, like Union Station and the Ryman Auditorium, and can be credited with jump-starting the revitalization of downtown in the early 1980s.

Historic Nashville Inc. Downtown Survey

One of HNI’s projects, undertaken around 1980, is the Historic Nashville Inc. Downtown Survey. Today, this is a popular resource for individuals researching downtown building histories. It contains information on over 250 buildings in an area generally bounded by the Cumberland River on the east; by 10th Avenue to the west; by the State Capitol at the north; and by Demonbreun Street on the south. The origins of the project are not clear, but generally the focus seems to be on buildings that were 50 years old or older and still standing in 1980.

Many buildings remain familiar parts of the downtown landscape: historic churches like Downtown Presbyterian or St. Mary’s; hotels like the Hermitage Hotel; or iconic buildings still bearing their original names, if not their original use, such as the American Trust building, Southern Turf, or the Silver Dollar Saloon. Other buildings include less well-known structures, though ones you still may pass every day, like the Berger Building or the Weil Block. Yet others have been torn down in the decades since 1980, and this collection is especially useful for the documentation it provides on these sites.

Each file typically includes three types of materials: photographs taken of the building’s exterior in 1980; an architectural description; and a compiled listing of deed and/or city directory research for the individual property.

627-631 Church Street and Candyland

Let’s take a look at one of the files. I’ve chosen Property #101, for the address of 627-631 Church Street, part of the block where the Nashville Public Library is located today.


Most structures will have a photograph of the front of the building, taken from street level.

View of front of building, corner of Church St. and 7th Ave. N.

Sometimes there will also be photographs of architectural details, such as these windows.


Photograph of details of windows


Architectural description

The survey provides a detailed description of the architectural features of the structure. The compiler also noted interior use and layout, and condition of the building.

Architectural description of building


 Deed Research

The file also includes this sheet, showing property transfers based on research in deed records, dating all the way back to 1845!


Deed research worksheet

The researcher in this case also added a sketch of the property and adjacent lots that were described in the will of George W. Smith in 1885.


Sketch of building plan


Not all of the properties covered in the Downtown Survey have as much detail; some have less, some have more. But this should serve as an introduction to this collection if you wish to know more about historic buildings downtown.

Learn more:

View the list of properties included in the survey, arranged by address, or read the formal finding aid which provides an overview.

See what other collections or materials we have that were produced by Historic Nashville, Inc.

Historic Nashville Inc Downtown Survey – Property 101 (pdf)

View selected photographs from a related collection, the HNI Sacred Sites Survey Project. This project was conducted from 1999-2003, and documented local churches that were fifty years old or older.

- Linda

Paul LaPrad: Civil Rights Activist

By , March 9, 2015

Line of PicketersThe Civil Rights Movement is often presented as a battle for equality that pitted all blacks against all whites. And, from afar, this is true. But, in Nashville and throughout the country, there were students of other races and backgrounds that believed in equality and fought right alongside African Americans. These students were subjected to the same kinds of physical abuse that other protesters faced but they continued to fight for this cause. The Civil Rights Movement is not just African American history, it is the history of our nation and the ways we come together to fight against oppression.

Paul LaPrad, for example, was a white student from Indiana that attended Fisk University during the Sit-Ins. He chose to spend a year at a predominantly African American school to surround himself with people that were different from him in order to better understand how to work with individuals from varying backgrounds. Since he was new to the area, all of LaPrad’s friends were from Fisk, and therefore, African American. While this caused no problems on campus, LaPrad remembers being frustrated that he could not go out in the city with his friends.

“…If I did choose to go Downtown and go to a movie, or go to dinner or something, I couldn’t do it with my friends from school. And you know, to me, that was a bunch of malarkey.”

LaPrad on floor after being beaten

Paul LaPrad, on the floor, is beaten by onlookers. Photo courtesy of The Tennessean, February 28, 1960.

As a member of the Church of Brethren, LaPrad believed in peace above all else, which drew him to the teachings of non-violence and he began attending James Lawson’s classes. On February 27, 1960, LaPrad joined other activists at the lunch counter in McClellan’s store. While there, he was pulled off of his stool, beaten, and eventually arrested for participating in the protest. Of the 70-80 students that were arrested that day for sitting-in at lunch counters throughout the city, 10 were white.  LaPrad and the other white participants were housed separately from the others since the jails were still segregated. Even after this experience, LaPrad continued to believe in the principles of non-violence and the goals of the movement.

The lessons of the Civil Rights Movement – equality, non-violence, respect – are still relevant today. As Paul LaPrad says, “It’s just important that we consider people as people. And I think, again, back to the Sit-Ins, there were certainly some people, white people who were very much against what we were doing. There were some who were somewhat open. There were some who were definitely open to what we were trying to do. And, as I stated earlier, that phenomenon of various grades of thinking exists within all communities. That’s not just a Black/White thing.”


You can access an oral history with Paul LaPrad as well as many other interviews with Civil Rights activists in the Civil Rights Oral History Collection at the Special Collections Department of the Nashville Public Library. You can also visit the Civil Rights Room to learn more about the Civil Rights Movement in Nashville.

- Amber

Nashville & Selma

By , February 9, 2015

Poster for movie Selma

Watching the new movie Selma was like seeing Nashville’s Civil Rights “All Stars”: James Bevel, Diane Nash, C.T. Vivian, John Lewis, Bernard LaFayette are all depicted in the film.

To be sure, the Nashville movement was much larger than these five people. Many others who gained national prominence in the Civil Rights Movement also got their start in Nashville. But they couldn’t have done it alone. Countless ordinary “foot soldiers” – like the mass of marchers in Selma – took part in the Nashville lunch counter sit-ins in 1960, often enduring beatings, arrests, and insults.


James Bevel in1960, at a protest in Nashville

James Bevel at a protest in Nashville, March 1960


What you may not have known – and what is not shown in the film – is that former Nashville activist, James Bevel, first proposed the Selma-to-Montgomery march. Prompted by the cold indifference of Alabama governor George Wallace to the killing of Jimmie Lee Jackson by state troopers, Bevel said:

“I’m going to go and talk to Wallace, and I’m going to walk all the way from Selma to Montgomery, because I want to think about what I want to say to him…. How many people you think … [will] walk with me?”

Listen to this excerpt of an oral history interview with Bernard LaFayette, where he tells more about Bevel’s role in initiating the march.


LaFayette on Bevel and Selma march

LaFayette on Bevel and Selma march


The Nashvillians portayed in Selma could march forward without fear, because they had already endured so much. They were, in the strongest sense of the word, veterans. In 1961, when some of them – including Diane Nash and John Lewis – left Nashville for Alabama to ensure that the Freedom Rides continued, they quite consciously knew they were risking death. These courageous men and women, most of them in their early twenties, made sure they had made out their wills before leaving town.

Now, it was four years later, and the Civil Rights campaign had focused on Selma. People who had gotten their training in non-violent protest in Nashville during the sit-ins were again at the forefront, and they were still risking their lives.

Learn more:


The Children by David Halberstam (tells the story of the Nashville sit-ins)

Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice by Raymond Arsenault

In Peace and Freedom: My Journey in Selma by Bernard LaFayette [Library Use Only]

Cradle of Freedom: Alabama and the Movement That Changed America by Frye Gaillard [Library Use Only]


Nashville: We Were Warriors [available for individual viewing in the Main Library's Civil Rights Room]

Freedom Riders

4 Little Girls [Library Use Only]

Selma the City and the Symbol [Library Use Only]

Home of the Brave [Library Use Only]

Primary sources at Nashville Public Library:

Civil Rights Oral History Project

Civil Rights Collection

Civil Rights topics in our Digital Collections 

– Linda

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