Five things you might not know about Nashville’s history (but would if you read Nashville: Yesterday & Today):
• Andrew Jackson’s hatred of the British was as personal as it was patriotic. Captured by the Brits during the American Revolution, he and his brother contracted smallpox. His brother died of the disease.
• Harold Stirling Vanderbilt invented the game of contract bridge.
• Eight of the last ten priests of Christ Episcopal Church reached the rank of bishop.
• Johnny Cash was on a high-school field trip to the Grand Ole Opry when he first saw his future wife, June Carter, on stage with the Carter family.
• William Edmondson was the first African-American artist to have a solo exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. His sculptures are now on permanent exhibit at Cheekwood.
For newcomers and original descendants alike, there is much to find fascinating in Nashville: Yesterday & Today. Nicki Pendleton Wood presents an overview of the city’s history, including its economy, architecture, education, and race relations. Breaking down Nashville into its geographic components—downtown, East Nashville, Midtown, etc.—she offers a sense of how the various parts of the city developed and inspires readers to hop in the car and take a tour of both well and lesser-known sites.
The book, printed in a lush coffee-table format, is replete with photographs which provide a beautiful tour of the city’s character as well as its history. There are reminders of places that no longer exist (Opryland, the Shade Murray home), as well as places Nashvillians expect to grace their city forever (the Pancake Pantry, the Ryman Auditorium). But this is not merely a guide to the uncomplicated aspects of Nashville’s past: one photograph is a shot of a crowd gathered at the courthouse steps after the bombing of attorney Z. Alexander Looby’s home. “In front of a large crowd that had marched to the square, ([Fisk University student Diane] Nash pressed the mayor to take a stand against discrimination,” Woods writes. Mayor Ben West tried to placate her, but Nash would not be brushed aside: “She asked again, ‘Mayor, do you recommend that the lunch counters be desegregated?’ West’s one-word response: ‘Yes.’”
Nashville Yesterday & Today is both a written and pictorial celebration of the city. It serves as a meaningful reminder of why so many people find their way to Music City and why, once there, decide to stay.
Nicki Pendleton Wood will sign copies of Nashville Yesterday & Today at the Metro Archives in Nashville at 5:30 on Aug. 3. Proceeds will benefit St. Luke’s Community House.