Day 8: Nashville Highways

June 20th, 2021

Today we were in Nashville before beginning our trek home through the state of Kentucky into Ohio. In Nashville, we got to enter into the Civil Rights Room in the Nashville Public Library and speak with Mr. Rip Patton, one of the original 27 Freedom Riders. Mr. Patton spoke of his time on the Freedom Rides and of his fellow freedom riders like John Lewis, as well as the awful conditions of Parchman State Penitentiary that the Freedom Riders were sent to in order to have their spirits broken. He spoke with a certainty and sincerity, and a calming voice that carried much wisdom. He remembered in specific detail that he was fourth to get off the bus when they were arrested and had us sing with him songs that they sang when in Parchman.

Mr. Patton then gave us a bus tour of Nashville, specifically the area around Tennessee State University and Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) leadership locations. 14 of the original Freedom Riders were from Tennessee State University (formerly Tennessee Agricultural & Industrial State College), including Mr. Patton, and all 14 were expelled.  CORE was the group which organized the Freedom Riders, and thus the group which Mr. Patton served with.

What was most remarkable to me about the tour was how much the city of Nashville has changed over the years. I have always grown up with the interstate highway system, but we passed through community after community where Mr. Patton identified the highways as having torn down homes or causing business to fail as they eliminated patrons’ homes. I had always heard how the interstate highway system disproportionately affected communities of color, but to see and hear how in one man’s lifetime a city has been remolded by infrastructure was truly staggering.

I never really thought of how there was a time that there simply weren’t such highways even though I conceptually knew this to be true. Mr. Patton, a jazz musician for a time, pointed out a once vibrant club that he played in before the interstate highway split the residential community in half and caused the club to shut down. Old wooden panels covered the windows, and the parking lot was riddled with potholes.

As there is discussion of a badly needed new infrastructure plan, I pray that we be good stewards of the land God gave us dominion of and that we develop it for the betterment of all people. I pray that we continue to aid one another and that those who design such necessary systems do so in consideration of all people. And I pray that we may begin to rectify those who have been harmed by our nation’s failures.

Matt Jenkins