• Malia Miglino

Antebellum Nashville - A Journey Through Music City's Dark Past

Updated: May 7


In my "Grave Hunting in Nashville" blog I touched on my hesitance to explore a Confederate state's Antebellum history. In my life on the West Coast, visiting former plantations is just not something we do or have so I have always been a little nervous about what I would feel and experience when I finally visited one. I think ultimately, I was scared that the slave owners would be glorified and the lives of the enslaved men, women and children who'd worked the land would be glossed over. I'm thrilled to say that the three sites I visited in Nashville did the exact opposite and instead made a pointed effort to educate visitors on the injustices and inequality demonstrated at these homes and plantations while also being very open about the lives of the people who owned the land. I live by the philosophy that we can not run from the past no matter how dark because it is through the lessons and mistakes of our forefathers that we grow and evolve. One of my favorite conversations I had while in Nashville was with the docent at the Hermitage, Andrew Jackson's home, and she told me about the youth programs they run out of the museum and how so many children insist that they would have said or done something to help fight slavery. She made the point that it was encouraging so many children thought this but that it was more importantly, an example of how far as a society we've come that the general instinct is to fight against oppression.


What children fail to comprehend in most instances when learning about history, adults too for that matter, is that they are viewing the actions of our ancestors through the eyes of the present, forgetting that had they been alive pre-Civil War and living in a place such as Nashville, speaking out against slavery could have had fatal consequences. Thats not to say it didn't happen, of course it did, thank God it did because if people hadn't ever spoken out, the Civil War would have never happened. Yet we forget what that time must have been like, to have death so close and so often. You have to truly ask yourself, "would I really have stood up and risked my life or would I have done what I had to do to stay alive, to keep my family alive?" Theres no right answer to this because none of us truly know what we would do in any situation until we are faced with it.


For instance, I expected to have a lot of biased anger towards any site I visited with a slave owning past. To some degree I was right, my feelings of anger, sadness and at times hatred towards the slave owners was present. I suppose what I hadn't expected was the understanding I gained. I'm not saying I agree or condone any action or decision of these slave owners, but I do feel like I understood them more, I could see the thought process, their own fight for survival and what I left with was an incredible education on human beings. One of our biggest faults as a species is forgetting that we are all complex beings with likes, dislikes, mistakes, triumphs, loves and hates and most importantly....flaws. We are all products of our time, our community and our families. Like it or not we are a cumulative of many things outside of our control and historical people are no different. Their choices in life no matter how right or wrong you believe them to be were based off of thousands of moments and feelings that pointed them in that direction. I'm not saying let's no hold them accountable, what I am saying is let's at least let them be human.


My hope while you read this blog is that you keep an open mind and if something makes you uncomfortable, ask yourself why that is. Our countries history is dark and complicated and very little about it is actually black and white. So let's explore the grey area of Nashville together and hopefully come out the other end a little more informed, a little more compassionate and hopefully a little more enlightened.


Life In Antebellum Nashville

From the Tennessee State Library Archive
Davidson County Courthouse, circa 1856

Nashville's history is one of great triumph, defeat and ultimate resurrection. The river port was originally called Fort Nashborough after the Revolutionary War hero, Francis Nash by Richard Henderson, one of the three "founders" of Nashville along with John Buchanan and James Robertson. Nashborough was founded in 1779 and technically a part of North Carolina. Tennessee wouldn't even be a state until the failed state of Franklin and the eventual giving up of the land by North Carolina to the Union who would found the state of Tennessee in 1796. The town that was once a part of North Carolina and now Tennessee would have been called Nashville since the 1780s but It wouldn't be formally incorporated into a city until 1806, helped in large part by the emerging railroad center, booming cotton industry and the beginnings of a mega railroad hub. In 1843 the city became the official capital of Tennessee and it is during this time that the city is at its prime.


Antebellum Nashville would have looked very similar to other large Southern cities of the time. Like New Orleans and Savannah, Nashville had lots of wealth due in absolute part to the huge slave trade that took place there. In 2018, a historical marker was finally unveiled on the corner of 4th and Charlotte, two blocks from City Hall, commemorating the thousands of slaves that were sold at the slave market that stood there some 150 years ago. Children as young as 7 would have been sold there, some people forced to strip naked and roll down a hill to demonstrate their health. Slave markets were something you would find in most large Antebellum cities but definitely on the ones with water access, like Nashville. Their prime location on the Cumberland river gave them ample access to new slaves which meant the wealthy White landowners had tons of free labor to choose from.


This is one of the most important things to keep in mind when exploring this time period, the wealthy White plantation owners ONLY became as wealthy as they did because they didn't pay for labor. Like the famous lyrics in Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton;


"your debts are paid because you don't pay for labor."


It's the honest truth. From horse breeding to cotton farming, Nashville's rich became rich on the backs of the enslaved and that is why when talks of secession started rumbling in 1861, the wealthy people of Tennessee were hell bent on keeping their free labor. An interesting thing to add to this is Tennessee as a whole was not in agreement on whether or not they should secede from the Union. East Tennessee was not in favor of seceding, West Tennessee home of Memphis was very pro secession but it was Nashville, smack in the middle of the state that delivered the final vote and they voted for secession. Nashville's vote to secede solidified Tennessee as the 11th and final state to withdraw from the Union and it is a moment in their history that many like to forget. Throwing it back to historical markers throughout the city, out of the some 160 dotted throughout, there are on six that mark locations having to do with slavery. This is an example of the continued inequality in historical remembrance that much of this country still suffers.


During the course of the Civil War, Tennessee, Nashville in particular would see some of the largest amounts of bloodshed. Nashville would fall to Federal troops in 1862 and it was at the final battles of Nashville and Franklin, some of the bloodiest and most brutal close contact fighting in all of the war, that the Confederacy would loose any last hopes of winning. The ending of the Civil War was nothing short of catastrophic for the Southern states that had relied on slave labor to run their land and homes. The Antebellum era was over and now the wealthy were having to pay any former slaves that continued to stay on and work with Confederate money that wasn't worth anything. Worse yet, their lands were often torn apart, destroyed by warfare. The smell of death in Franklin, TN for example permeated the air for years. Railroads were torn apart, houses dismantled or riddled with bullet holes, cotton fields, destroyed. During the course of 4 years, the wealthy echelon of Nashville saw their way of life, their homes and their dollar disappear. Many were left in ruin and left with anger and disdain towards their now free former slaves whom, as they saw it, were the reason they now had lost everything. It is impossible to not look at this moment and surmise that this view point is the birth of the modern day racism we still face. The South in many ways has never blossomed back the way it once had, our poorest areas are in fact, in the South. In the fight to free a group of people, did we condemn another?


There was joy in the ending of the Civil War for thousands of former enslaved people, freed men and women and for the brave abolitionists who had the balls to stand up to oppression but that joy was fleeting. A mass migration to the North and the West began for thousands of African American's looking for opportunity and safety. Less than a year after the war the KKK was founded and it was a reminder that the South was no safe haven. For the many that stayed behind, new versions of slavery like sharecropping - the system where land owners would let their tenants, often former slaves, work their lands and make a profit for a cut of their shares. In theory this seems like a good deal until you realize that most African American's didn't have money to buy their own tools or homes so they rented them from their, in some cases, former owners and at the end of the day were making close to nothing between rental fees and shares given to their landlord. It is also during this time our prison system starts to really shape up and the number of Black to White inmates start their overly imbalanced scales. So yes, slavery was abolished, the Antebellum era was over but the uphill battle for equality was just starting.


For some, Nashville would always be home and in the stories below you will meet some of the people who decided to stay and start new lives on the same land they once were forced to work. It's time we visit some of the homes of Nashville and get a closer look on what living through this period would have been like for both Black and White.


Belle Meade Plantation

Built - 1819

Website

Belle Meade, now a name synonymous with wealth in Nashville and a neighborhood of its own, was once only known for this estate and the incredible horses that were bred here. The 250-acre tract of land was purchased in 1807 by John Harding who brought with him three enslaved people to start working the land. In 1816, John put an add in the paper looking for someone to breed with his stallion, Boaster. This would be the first step in this land becoming the premiere stud farm in the Nation at the time. By 1819, the framework of the home you see in the picture above would have been built by the slaves on the land, still only a handful at the time. By the 1850s, Belle Meade had their racing silks, one of the longest held family silks in the country and people came far and wide to get a glimpse at their horses. More importantly, a new man was in charge and he changed everything. John Harding and his wife Susannah had but one child, a son, William, a trust fund baby in all accounts who inherited the estate in 1839 and using his daddy's money, expanded the home and burgeoning empire. William was now one of the richest men in the country, he owned 136 enslaved people of which 63 were children and was a devout anti-abolitionist. He was famous for his racial rants and when the Civil War broke out, William donated $500,000 to the Confederate Army before being taken to military prison at Mackinac Island in 1862 along with many other prominent Southerners.


One can only imagine what it would have been like to have been on of the 136 enslaved individuals at Belle Meade. The estate has been referred to as the Disneyland of it's time because it truly had everything, including a winery that still exists and you get a free tasting with the tour...just sayin'. The amount of luxury displayed in the home and the surrounding land is staggering. From the top notch horse stables and carriage house, to the mansion and all of it's gilding to the smoke house and family crypt. It is Antebellum wealth at it's finest. Then you have the two still standing slave quarters; two crude log cabins full of photos and artifacts depicting the devastating and oppressive life of the people who built the grandeur they weren't allowed to enjoy. Belle Meade offerers two tours to visitors, the Mansion tour which is exactly what you expect and the Jubliee tour, dedicated to educating people on the lives of the enslaved who worked at Belle Meade. In the slave quarters you get to see the culmination of that tours efforts to preserve what little there is that exists of the enslaved and their time there. From instruments to slave purchase logs, the cabins reveal the dark underbelly of the property. One of the things I found most poignant was the section on music and how almost no written records of the songs sung by the slaves exist, half in part due to most slaves not being allowed to read or write and also because no white scholars believed their music worthy enough to record. The beautiful irony is that the very songs they didn't feel worthy to record became the basis of almost of every genre of music that exists today.


Something you will hear them talk about a lot on both tours are the most famous former slaves who stayed on the land, Robert Green and Susana Carter. Robert Green would stay on after emancipation and become the head Holster at the estate and highest paid employee. "Bob" Green was considered one of the most knowledgable men in the horse grooming industry and when he died his obituary was published nationwide and his funeral attended by hundreds of Nashvillians. Theres even a painted portrait of him in the foyer, not something I think that would have been hung pre-emancipation but his story is one Belle Meade takes great pride in, the same way they take pride in the story of Susanna.


The oral story of Susana Carter is that her and her siblings were born free and illegally purchased by Randal McGavock, another one of the wealthy plantation owners in the area, after their father died. When Elizabeth McGavock married William Harding, she was gifted a 14 year old Susanna. Susanna would become another person to stay on at Belle Meade after emancipation as the head cook and her award winning Blackberry wine has now become a thing of infamy. The most dare I say, alarming and sad part of this story is that in interviews given much later in life, Susanna would reflect almost agreeingly to slavery. In fact, she wasn't the only one. Of the 136 enslaved individuals freed with emancipation, 72 stayed on to work including four whole families, Susanna's being one. Most of whom talked positively about their time at Belle Meade. It's an interesting thing to think how one could look at the situation and not be full of hatred but I suppose perspective is an objective one and for a few like Robert and Susanna, their lives at Belle Meade hadn't been awful ones. Yes, their time there started with slavery but led to a good living and in both cases, some amount of national recognition. This isn't to say they wouldn't have seen the often less talked about moments of brutality at the whipping post, or the all too often cases of rape but perhaps in this time, at this particular place, they felt that maybe, just maybe, it wasn't that bad?


Of course this is just conjecture, there is no way for me to know what they truly felt. As with almost every plantation in the country and city for that matter, there is no marker for where the slave cemetery on the property is. Susanna and Robert, even though their personal positions were favored, would have known and seen the inequality and lack of compassion for their fellow people at the estate. The Harding's of Belle Meade may not have been the most brutal slave owners, but they certainly weren't pioneers of racial progress. When visiting Belle Meade, what you might see on the outside is White wealth but what I see is the hard work and perseverance of 136 enslaved individuals who became 72 freed people who's skills kept the estate running, kept the horses for which the place was famous winning and kept the guests that came full and happy.


Belle Meade might have been owned by White people. but it only exists because of the Black people who whether by choice or force, lived there.


Belmont Mansion

Built - 1853

Website

Originally I felt as though I should lead with Belmont since it's the first historical site I visited when in Nashville but since this was a secondary home for the family I decided it should be number two on my list. The reason I visited Belmont first is because it wasn't a proper plantation and also because it felt like a good segway into Antebellum South seeing as though the mansion is still greatly considered one of the finest examples of Antebellum architecture in the country and it is truly stunning. But let's break down some history first.


You know how when you visit historical cities there always tends to be a name you hear over and over? Surprisingly in Nashville one of those names is a female one, and it's Adelicia Acklen. Adelicia's story is a complicated one and well, I honestly have a lot of mixed feelings about her. Born Adelicia Hayes in Nashville in 1817 to a wealthy family, she had the kind of upbringing you would expect of the era with the exception that she was highly educated. Despite this, she was still expected to marry and at age 17 she was to be married to Alfonso Gibbs who sadly died before they could marry. 5 years later she would properly marry at age 22 to wealthy slave trader Isaac Franklin. Franklin had amassed many plantations in both Tennessee and Louisiana and when he died 7 years later, she was left with an estate of $900,000 and one of the largest slave holdings in the country. This also made her the wealthiest woman in Tennessee. Not only was she now a widow at 30, she had suffered the death of all four of their children, none of whom survived childhood. She would go on to sell four of the plantations in Louisiana which became the ground in which the Louisiana State Prison was built. After three years of traveling Europe and amassing one of the largest private collections of art, Adelicia married a second time in 1849, this time to Joseph A. S. Acklen who was more than happy to spend Adelicia's money. Together, they started the plans for Belmont, an impressive mansion in the middle of Nashville complete with gardens, a zoo and show stopping art from Europe. It was a bit gaudy even for the day but the farms, aviary and gardens brought people from all over the city. Surprisingly, Belmont was never meant to be a permanent residence but instead a summer retreat for them to escape the harsh and humid Louisiana summers. Together they would have 6 children, two of which would die as children. If we're keeping count, thats 6 of her kids Adelicia had to watch die.


It is during her second marriage and her life at Belmont that Adelicia's life seemed to find its purpose despite the deaths of her children. Her collection of art was on full display at the many events and parties they held at the house, and I mean many. In the decade leading up to the Civil War, wealthy Nashvillian's were truly living it up and none more than Adelicia who's parties were at the center of the Nashville's social scene thanks in large part to her infamously delicious food. As with most stories of great homes of the South, the food you serve is what will make or break your party and it was known that Adelicia's head cooks, two of her slaves she brought with her form Louisiana, made the best food in the city. In fact, some historians believe that it was the food that made Adelicia into the socialite that she was. Today visiting the mansion, it's hard not to imagine what being invited to a grand dinner would have been like there in the formal dining room surrounded by 6 different types of European China. Literally, there was a room built just to house the many different types of China, it was crazy.


Of course, a lot of things changed when the Civil War hit. Joseph left to mind the plantations in Louisiana and Adelicia and the kids stayed in Nashville, their lives being a bit uprooted when Federal troops took over her house for two weeks during the Battle of Nashville in 1864. Despite the occupation, only her adjoining farms suffered any damage from the war, most of it being using for firewood. The mansion however and its contents would be left unscathed. Her marriage however, would not. Naturally, Joseph would also die because Adelicia's life was just one death after another and this led her to her third and final marriage, albeit her least satisfying one, to a physician and head of the lunatic asylum, Dr. William Archer Cheatham. I can't imagine a man of that profession would have been a real hoot. Despite her lackluster marriage, Adelicia busied herself with charitable actions including generous donations to orphanages, organizations for women without husbands or male family members to provide for them, an organization for Union women who were looking for their wounded husbands and sons and many other programs of the sort. From this angle, we can look at Adelicia and think, "hey! she sounds like a pretty progressive lady!" But let us not forget this is a woman who owned one of the largest slave holdings in the country, who's wealth and knowledge gave her a platform in which she could have helped bolster the abolitionist movement. To be fair, Adelicia did not just have slaves, but also a large staff full of European immigrants. One could almost say she was an equal opportunist when it came to servitude but then we remember that she also donated heavily to the Confederate cause, helped pay for the Confederate Circle burial at Mt. Olivet cemetery AND is interred in the family crypt across from it.


The most frustrating thing about Adelicia is how much of a product of her time, station and class she was. She had every opportunity to be a part of the change but instead championed a version of life that kept her at the top and so many below her. She clearly cared for women and her own personal tragedies probably turned her into a colder survivalist but I so badly wish she'd been brave enough to see a world more equal that included not just the women she championed, but the Black folks she'd rather own than build up even when their hard work and talents were the reason she was rich or known at all.


Adelicia would eventually leave Belmont for Washington DC after her final marriage became so unsatisfying she left. She would die in DC in 1887 and Belmont would eventually become a part of Belmont University when none of her children wanted it. It's funny, perhaps to her children the home represented a time in their life they would rather not remember. Slavery, war, death....not exactly a time many would want to relish in. Belmont Mansion may not have been a proper plantation but it was every bit of an example of the racially despicable Antebellum era that Nashville would love to forget. Somewhere between the cords of a guitar and the polite smiles of a Southern afternoon tea lies the remnants of a dark past where entertainment and status came at the expense of the enslaved and Belmont Mansion stands as a relic of a shameful time in our countries history. Theres not enough art in the world to cover that up.


Andrew Jackson's Hermitage

Built - 1819 remodeled in 1831

Website

God's honest truth? I can't freakin stand Andrew Jackson. It took me days of debating whether or not I wanted to visit the Hermitage mainly because I could give a f*ck about Old Hickory and his legacy of Native American genocide coupled with his abhorrent number of enslaved people but then I sucked up my anger and for the purposes of research, decided to take a trip out to our countries 7th President's abode. Long story short? I'm really glad I did.


My visit to the Hermitage was enlightening, educational and deeply emotional. I was lucky enough to visit on a rainy day and have a tour all to myself which meant my one hour tour that started with an introductory video where I was happily surprised to see my friend and fellow actor Patrick Gorman playing Jackson, ended up being a two hour long deep conversation with a really rad docent. Now, I'll be the first to admit my knowledge on our past Presidents pales in comparison to my knowledge of the English Monarchy but I can confidently say I now feel like I really know and understand Jackson....well, as much as a person can some almost 200 years later. So let me share with you what I learned and why this plot of land in particular has haunted me since I left.


Let's do a quick summary of his life, shall we? Volunteers to fight the British in the Revolutionary War at just age 13. Gets captured, gets smallpox. Survives. Becomes an orphan at 14, works his ass off and becomes a lawyer. Falls in love with a short and squat woman named Rachel, love of his life. Buys a little plot of land, decides to dabble with some other ventures on top of being an in demand lawyer like opening a tavern. Things don't go great, he sells to avoid bankruptcy, buys a big plot of land that will become the Hermitage. Decides to leave the law which had turned into a super spicy Superior Court Judgeship to focus on his new land where he puts a new tavern and gets some slaves and starts building his own little Monticello. Brief hiccup in 1806 when he decides to duel Charles Dickenson over a horse racing bet and some unkind words about his wifey, they both shoot, Charles dies (he's buried in Nashville City Cemetery) and the bullet from Charles's gun lodges next to Jackson's heart and is never removed out of fear of the surgery killing him. Fun Fact - this is one of two bullets Jackson would carry in his life, turns out he had a temper! SHOCKER. He is later brought into the Tennessee Militia where he ends up being a super fancy and heroic General in the War of 1812. His win in New Orleans earned him infamy and adoration from the American people which led to his eventual seat as a Senator. Over the next 20-ish years Jackson would run for President, lose, give up his seat as Senator, go back to the law as a judge for awhile, run for President again, suffer what is historically considered one of the most malicious campaigns in American history where all the skeletons came out of the closet like, well, his temper and love of duels, the fact that he executed deserters in the war, his very controversial friendship with Aaron Burr, the fact that little Rachel was a fuming bigot and the people didn't think that made Jackson a great option for President and oh yea, they loved comparing him to Napoleon. Despite all this, Jackson won the election but the damage of the smear campaign took its toll in a very large way. Rachel, his beloved little wife who had never bore any children, died days after his win, dropping dead of a heart attack. And that my friends leads us to his Presidency and the beginning of lots of head scratching contradictions.


There was a ton of things that made his Presidency controversial, The Eaton Scandal, the bank issues but most historically remembered, the Indian Removal Act of 1831. The beginnings of the Trail of Tears is convoluted, despicable and for the time, oddly understandable. Hear me out - the threat of the British very much still existed and many Americans believed they needed to secure as many territories as possible which meant killing or getting rid of any Native tribes that didn't swear allegiance...essentially. Upshot? The government was worried that Native Americans who didn't surrender to the new America or whatever you want to call it, would side with the British. Shockingly, there is nothing in Jackson's personal correspondence that suggests he had any specific racist agenda's towards the Native Americans, in many ways it was pure strategy. In the beginning they even received reinforcements from the Cherokee...who they later turned on and killed thousands of. It was a despicable act, but one that I can almost understand from the perspective of a person who at age 13 volunteered to kill the British, but looking at it from 21st century eyes one can't help but loathe the man who made the decision, Jackson.


Ready for things to get more convoluted? So Jackson had a thing for orphans, like in his cold tempered heart he couldn't stand seeing children without parents which is why on more than one occasion he fostered orphaned Native children who his own troops killed the parents of. Yea, I'm not joking. Over his life he would foster many orphaned children and at least three of them would be Native, he even helped secure them jobs when they came of age. Of course none of them received the same love and attention that his own adopted son, Andrew Jackson Jr. received. Fun story, in 1808, desperate to have children of their own, Rachel's sister promised her next son to them...strange but considerate I guess. Turns out she had twin boys, she gave one to the Jackon's. In a very progressive (maybe?) move, the boys knew they were brothers and considered each other cousins and amazingly no awkwardness was ever linked to the situation. Junior would not inherit any of the heroic or business minded qualities from his father however and instead loved gambling all the money away. Things get more complicated with the marriage of Junior to Philadelphia born Sarah Yorke, who came from a devoutly abolitionist family, a viewpoint she maintained despite being married to the heir of one of America's largest slave holdings.


Let's jump back though to some of the hypocrisies of Jackson. Despite his large slave holdings, he was vehemently opposed to a Southern secession and preached pro Union rhetoric till the end of his life. He also truly believed that he believed all people were created equal and everyone should have an opportunity to prosper...unless you were Black, He was so, "for the people" that he was the first to give a State of The Union Address to the public and by doing so, changed the way President's address the people forever. It's only fair to say he wasn't all bad as far as President's go if you were a White person. One of the stories shared with me at the museum that really stuck with me was how Jackson had once spent $500 to reunite a married slave couple which was more money than he'd originally purchased the Hermitage land for. To be honest, I don't even know what to do with that information.


To visit the Hermitage is to take a step back in time. The home is impressive but not as opulent as you might expect, in many ways it does reflect the "common man" reputation Jackson had. It was a bit of a trip to see the actual bed he died in, in the room he died and know that bed was only there because long after emancipation and the war which had destroyed parts of the home and the family fortune all but gambled away by Jackson Jr., Alfred, once a slave at the plantation who stayed on as an employee and became the longest resident of the Hermitage, bought Jackon's bed at auction and donated it back to the museum when it opened up to the public. Fun fact - he was also the first tour guide at the Hermitage and when he died in 1901, his funeral was held at the home and he was buried next to Jackson's tomb, the only non-White member to be buried in the family cemetery.


The most haunting part of the Hermitage is the one mile roundtrip hike to the area where all 150 enslaved people lived. A village tucked in the woods, next to the river and containing an energy I still can't quite put my finger on. Archaeologists are still discovering artifacts on the site of handmade objects that would have belonged to the people who worked all 1000 acres of the Hermitage. It was just a sobering experience to walk the mossy trail from the main house to area in which the village once was. To know how many people lived, worked and died there and there existence including their final resting place is shrouded in so much mystery due to lack of care in documentation of the day. Thankfully the Hermitage website has an incredible section dedicated to the stories of the people they know for sure lived there and I encourage you all who read this to check it out.

For me, my experience at the Hermitage from wandering the main house to walking the only existing slave quarters that remain, to walking the path to the village knowing I could very well be walking through a cemetery and not knowing it and to finally, standing at the base of Andrew Jackson and Rachel's tomb, left me feeling a strange mixture of both deeply sad and hopeful. I hadn't expected hope to be a feeling that would arise in me at any of these locations but I think it had something to do with being at the home of a person who, despite his many faults, truly loved this country. In my opinion he did it all wrong and the consequences of his actions as President and slave owner are felt to this day. Yet the hope for a better Nation still somehow lingers in the air of the Hermitage. Whether that energy comes from the life of Jackson, the lives and hopes of the people forced to work there or some mixture of the two, it's an unshakeable feeling. I'm reminded of my favorite thing the docent said to me on tour, "you don't have to like Andrew Jackson and you don't have to agree with everything he did, but we have to acknowledge that he was human."


Human. The one thing every single person in every one of these homes at any time in history has always had in common has been their humanity. No one person is perfect, we are riddled with flaws and traumas and sometimes its our humanity that leads us to do things others might not understand from not standing up to oppression to reflecting on your time as a slave and saying it wasn't so bad. None of us will ever understand what it was like to be any of the people I've talked about in this post. How can we claim to even fathom the thought process that went into any of the decisions any of these people made? Although I left Nashville less apprehensive of visiting other Confederate states I also left with a greater appreciation for all the tens of thousands men, women and children who built this country and are only now starting to publicly get recognized for it. With the growing movement of awareness and emerging courage to face the dark parts of our history in a way that can help educate and move us towards progress, more and more programs aimed at relocating lost slave burial plots are popping up including Nashville. More cities are erecting historical markers dedicated to racial injustices and educational programs aimed at telling the lost stories of the enslaved and freed African Americans at historical sites that for too long glorified the landowners are changing the way we tell our countries history. Hopefully, just maybe, this is the beginning of telling the true history of America.

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