In August, 2019 Anthony Billups of Music City Murals and Olasubomi Aka-Bashorun did a series of murals in the new Frankie Pierce Park. The murals all honor one of Nashville’s most important Black activists, J. Frankie Pierce. Pierce was a civil rights activist who played an important part in the women’s suffrage movement in Nashville, and who opened the Tennessee Vocational School for Colored Girls in 1923, which remained open until 1979.
There’s a long Pierce mural on the east side of the park. On the southwest side, there are two Pierce murals flanking a railroad underpass, the southernmost of which I’ve already featured. Today being the first day of African-American History Month, it’s a good time to wrap up this series. This third mural lies across the street from the second one. Here we can read a short biography of Pierce’s life and work in the form of a newspaper article, and learn about her campaigns for civil rights and women’s suffrage.
Frankie Pierce Park is a green space that includes a children’s playground that was built as a public-private partnership between Capitol View, a massive multi-block development, and Metro Parks. It lies in a triangle of land between two elevated railroad lines that separate Capitol View from Capitol Hill.
Today, the neighborhood the park is found in is know as Capitol View, after the enormous development project. There are even developers and real-estate agents who like to call it “North Gulch,” which is truly awful. But as the “newspaper article” that makes up the mural notes, when Frankie Pierce was alive, this patch of land was called Hell’s Half-Acre. Founded during Reconstruction, the neighborhood was populated by Blacks and immigrants. As it lay outside of city limits at the time, it was a place where saloons and all kinds of vice flourished, but was also home to a rich African-American culture. It was razed in the 1950s as part of a Capitol Hill Redevelopment plan, and largely remained empty (or used as parking lots) until the Capitol View development project was built. Gentrification, or just outright destruction of neighborhoods, is not a new problem in Nashville.
Here you can see the “newspaper” mural with its companion, looking out of the park towards the Capitol View development.
Located at 130 Lifeway Plaza. That’s the address of the park. The mural is found on the south end of the park, on the southern railroad underpass, right off of Nelson Merry Street. The easiest parking is off of Nelson Merry, which you can see in the bottom image, and at Capitol View.
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