Deep in the heart of the nation lies Nashville, Tennessee. Known primarily for its status as Music City USA, Nashville has long been a mecca for artists of all types. Its location in the middle of the state and near the Cumberland River have made it a waypoint for travelers passing through and have bolstered an economy based not only on entertainment but on tourism and shipping.
It was founded in the late 1700s due to its location both defensively and economically. It grew quickly in the first few decades, but more than a third of the population were slaves. In fact, slavery made up a major part of Nashville’s economy up until the Civil War, whether by those buying and selling them, transporting them along the river and, later, the railroad, or simply by their labor in and around the city in agriculture and service jobs.
When the Civil War began, Nashville quickly became a primary target due to its economic power and strategic location. The 1864 Battle of Nashville is widely considered to be one of the most important tactical victories for the Unites States in quelling the traitors.
Following the war, Nashville wasn’t hit as hard by economic hardship as the rest of the South thanks once more to its importance as an important economic hub. But the race-based voter restrictions in addition to other Jim Crow-style laws led to an underclass of black Americans, as well as many uneducated and poor whites, pushing Tennessee from an early swing state to a solid Southern Democrat one.
Tennessee remained one of the worst states for civil rights for people of color and women all the way until World War I. Following the war, Tennessee became the hero of the women’s suffrage movement when it became the vote that put the 19th Amendment over the top, allowing women the right to vote. But this victory for civil rights would be short-lived, as Nashville quickly doubled down on racist segregationist policies and further squeezed freedoms away from blacks and other people of color. Many of these policies persisted up until the 1970s, when lawsuits against cities across the south, including Nashville, pushed them to adopt new forms of government which would allow representation for all residents.
Nashville began its role as Music City USA during the roaring ‘20s, as venues like the storied Grand Ole Opry opened. Stars across the spectrum were attracted to the city, and after World War II country music studios were founded in the city by giants like Roy Acuff. The economy diversified as support industries sprouted up in addition to the already entrenched trade market.
Racial tensions in the city continued to be a major issue, however. As desegregation began in the mid-1950s, protests against integration often turned violent, culminating in a bombing at an elementary school. Luckily, nobody was killed, but public opinion quickly turned against segregationists and schools were almost entirely integrated by 1960.
Pro-civil rights protests then turned their focus on local businesses and sit-ins were held across the city. The influential Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) had its roots here, as well as its first major victory — the desegregation of the city’s theatres.
Nowadays, racial tensions are much less pronounced in Nashville than in much of the rest of the South, though they are still certainly present. The city resides in Davidson County, one of only three blue counties in the 2016 election, and a heavily diverse population certainly contribute to this relative calm. The Great Recession, like previous economic downturns, didn’t hit Nashville as hard as other major cities, and its recovery was much swifter than most.
In fact, Nashville was named the fifth fastest growing city in America in 2013, and industry of all sorts is thriving as people move in by the thousands. Music venues and tourist hubs continue to spring up — including the massive 800-room Omni Hotel and a major expansion to the Country Music Hall of Fame. In fact, more than 120 major construction projects are underway in Davidson County — among the most in the nation.
As millions of Americans continue to pour in, Nashville has also become an important destination for immigrants of both the legal and illegal variety. With its relatively high standard of living, above average median income, and below average cost-of-living, Nashville is once more poised to be an important cultural hub for the next few years — if not decades.