Jefferson Street is a street in Nashville, Tennessee, U.S., which forms the historic center of the city's African-American community. It is located near three historically black universities: Fisk University, Meharry Medical College and Tennessee State University. The street attracted many rock and roll as well as rhythm and blues artists in the 1940s–1960s. It was a center for the Nashville sit-ins in the 1960s, but the construction of Interstate 40 across the street led to its economic decline.
In the Antebellum era, the street was a footpath running "from the Hadley plantation on the west to the Cumberland River on the east". It later became a road for wagons and horses. During the American Civil War, it was straddled by Fort Gilliam, a Union Army camp, and "large campus of runaway slaves were opened in the area." The street was named in honor of U.S President Thomas Jefferson.
After the war, Gilliam Fort became the site of Jubilee Hall, the main building on the campus of Fisk University built in 1872. The campus of Tennessee State University was built across Hadley Park, on the western tip of Jefferson Street. By the 1930s, the Meharry Medical College was relocated west of Fisk University from its original location in South Nashville. The street was thus surrounded by three historically black universities.
By the 1920s–1930s, the street became a popular neighborhood among the black middle class, and many churches like the Mount Zion Baptist Church, the Pleasant Green Baptist Missionary Church and the Jefferson Street Missionary Baptist Church were built.
In the 1940s–1960s, it was a center for rock'n'roll as well as rhythm and blues. Artists including Jimi Hendrix, Etta James, Ray Charles, Little Richard, Otis Redding and Billy Cox played in clubs such as the Del Morocco, the New Era Club, Maceo's, Club Baron or Club Stealaway.
During the Civil Rights era, the street became a center for the Nashville sit-ins. While the protests took place elsewhere (including in Downtown Nashville), activists planned their protests on Jefferson Street, and they were supported by "Jefferson Street business owners and residents." In the aftermath of the protests, Interstate 40 was built across Jefferson Street, leading to the economic decline of the community. The interstate had been projected to be built near the campus of Vanderbilt University in the 1950s, when it was a white-only university campus, but city officials changed their minds in the 1960s. As a result, many African-American residents moved to the Bordeaux area in North Nashville.
By the 2000s, residents attempted to "revitalize" the community. In 2017, it was decided that the music history of Jefferson Street would be chronicled in the National Museum of African American Music due to open in 2019. The museum will be located on 5th and Broadway, near the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, far from Jefferson Street.
In March 2017, the Muslim American Cultural Center, a new mosque, opened on the street.
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