Explore Nashville’s role in the Civil Rights Movement by spending some time visiting the officially-designated stops in the city on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail. You can then continue the trail to Clinton in East Tennessee to hear the inspiring story that came out of this little town tucked in the Great Smoky Mountains. We’ve outlined where you should stay and dine in Nashville and Clinton, rounding out your trip itinerary along the U.S. Civil Rights Trail.
Where to stay: Noelle, in Nashville’s downtown area, is a convenient location to stay after exploring Nashville’s stops along the U.S. Civil Rights Trail. Located on 4th Avenue, the building was built in 1930 and has always been at the center of Nashville’s vibrancy. Today, the hotel provides modern decor throughout the property, a beautiful restaurant and airy and open rooms to its guests. Take a short walk to the downtown Civil Rights Trails locations and take in Nashville’s iconic city vibe.
Deacon's New South
Where to eat: Housed in Nashville’s first-ever skyscraper - the L&C Tower, Deacon’s New South is a steakhouse that features Southern favorites with locally-sourced produce and protein when possible. Make your dinner memorable by ordering the diver scallops that come with cauliflower and olives in a beurre blanc sauce, a crafted cocktail from the extensive menu, and the apple jack stack – boozy apple pear butter, candied walnuts and apple cider vinegar gastrique – for dessert.
Civil Rights Room
Step inside the immaculate Nashville Public Library and climb the marble stairs to the second floor where you’ll find the Civil Rights Room, a space for education and exploration of the Civil Rights collection which includes black-and-white photographs of the events surrounding Nashville during the 50s and 60s. A symbolic lunch counter can be found along with a Ten Rules of Conduct protestors adhered to during their peaceful sit-ins and a timeline of local and national events. You can even see the intersection of Church Street and Seventh Avenue North through the library’s large windows where nonviolent protests against segregated lunch counters occurred. The Room is open during regular library hours to the public.
Downtown Nashville Visitor Center
The site of several 1960s sit-ins in Nashville has been reimagined into a restaurant and live music venue that pays homage to Nashville’s civil rights history. The three-story, 30,000-square-foot building which was built in 1930, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and resembles the former Woolworths and its lunch counter. You’ll enjoy the soul food served and live music grounded in the rock n’ roll and soul of the 1950s and ‘60s will be performed.
Photo credit: Danielle Atkins
Clark Memorial United Methodist Church
Make your way to 14th Avenue North in downtown Nashville to see the church that served as a meeting site for many civil rights efforts. James Lawson hosted nonviolent protest workshops in 1958 at the church and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had the Southern Christian Leadership Conference annual meeting there in 1961.
After the home of Z. Alexander Looby, a lawyer for civil rights cases, was bombed, students and others met and marched to the Davidson County Courthouse where they met with Mayor Ben West who conceded that segregation was immoral and that the city's lunch counter should be de-segregated.
Located next to the Courthouse, Witness Walls, created by artist Walter Hood, tells the stories of the events and the people who made civil rights history in Nashville. School desegregation, marches, meetings, Freedom Rides, lunch counter sit-ins and economic boycotts are represented on the concrete walls. Witness Walls was dedicated in 2017 and is a project of the Metro Nashville Arts Commission’s Percent for Public Art Program.
Fisk University Galleries
Fisk University is the oldest university in Nashville. The first African American university to receive accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Fisk University students were instrumental in many of the sit-in demonstrations throughout Nashville. You can learn about the university’s history and some of its famous alumni including Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Thurgood Marshall (the first African-American Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court) and U.S. Representative John Lewis. You can also visit the extensive art collection in the Carl Van Vechten Gallery.
Griggs Hall at American Baptist College
Griggs Hall was the 1st building constructed on the campus of American Baptist College, a seminary for black students. It became the center for non-violent training and activity in the Nashville area, especially the Nashville sit-in program. Tours are available by appointment only. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Historic Downtown Clinton
Where to stay: Your historic stay can be found at the Cabins on Cedar Ridge. These cabins are 1860-er log cabins that have been renovated with today’s amenities. Enjoy the wood-burning fireplace; make delicious meals in the fully-equipped kitchen; enjoy free Wi-Fi, satellite TV, two bedrooms and one bathroom.
Hoskins Drug Store
Dine at an authentic soda fountain lunch counter and order the day's lunch specials, full breakfast with biscuits and gravy, home cooked vegetables and grilled sandwiches. Finish your meal with a milkshake, malt or a banana split. Stop in the gift shop and wander the full-service pharmacy. It's a step back in time in Clinton, Tennessee.
Green McAdoo Cultural Center
Visitors can learn about the courageous story of the Clinton 12. Step inside a 1950s classroom and see what life was like under "Jim Crow" laws. Follow the chronological story of the desegregation of the Clinton High School with life-size photographs and narratives.
Thanks to the newly-launched U.S. Civil Rights Trail, travelers have connected access to more than 100 locations in 14 states that played a significant role in the Civil Rights Movement during the 1950s and 1960s. Tennessee has 10 stops along the trail.