Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The African-American History of Nashville, Tennessee, 1780-1930: Elites and Dilemmas

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The African-American History of Nashville, Tennessee, 1780-1930: Elites and Dilemmas

Article excerpt

The African-American History of Nashville, Tennessee, 1780-1930: Elites and Dilemmas. By Bobby L. Lovett. Black Community. (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1999. Pp. xviii, 314. Paper, $18.00, ISBN 1-55728-556-X; cloth, $36.00, ISBN 1-35728-5-1.)

In this book Bobby Lovett addresses the generally accepted misconception of the uniformity of the African American experience, both in slavery and freedom, and offers valuable insight into the complex hierarchy of a subculture within a subculture. He describes the African American elites, explains the criteria necessary for achievement of that status, and delineates dilemmas they faced from Nashville's founding in 1780 through the 1920s. Throughout the frontier and slave era in Nashville, as in the rest of the nation, freedom automatically conferred higher status upon the African American. The privileges enjoyed by free blacks ranged from choice of employment to freedom of worship. The elites' chief weapon for safeguarding and perpetuating their ostensible control of their own destiny was literacy. Education would pave the way for first-class citizenship.

Most free blacks knew that the ability to read and write was of paramount importance. The African Americans in Nashville that Lovett identifies as elites during the 1780-1930 period had reaped the benefits of education, albeit in limited amounts. Even in slavery the ability to read and write--skills often gained clandestinely--bestowed status upon the captive African American. In the Reconstructed South, freedmen with the ability to read and write, as well as those possessing some formal education, gained elite status and reinforced the importance of education. As Lovett notes, "elite black persons believed that education could help transform ignorant and cultureless freedmen into better citizens and make blacks the equals of the whites" (p. …

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