After today’s historic, yet frustrating Tennessee Titans football game, a friend and I (two history geeks) strolled over to the opening of Nashville’s rebuilt and wonderful Public Square, a beautiful square block of greenspace in front of the Metro Court House. Whenever a city takes a parking lot and puts up a paradise, it’s a good thing. And so I salute Mayor Bill Purcell and all involved. Indeed, I am a fan of our mayor (except I think he could be a bit more bold and entrepreneurial). I do not know him personally, but there are those who read this blog who do. They know I am glad to have a very well educated, articulate and erudite person leading the city. And I like living in a city that has citizens willing to elect very smart and intellectual leaders who are not natives of the city — Nashville is my adopted city and it’s nice to be a citizen of a city and state where new people and new ideas are embraced.
So, here’s the but…
I am very confused why the mayor feels the need to rewrite history by calling today the 200th birthday of Nashville. It is not. There are many noted Nashville historians — and many published histories of the city. The wonderful Nashville Library even has a collection of books related to Nashville’s history. Yet who among these historians or in the books they’ve written would one find the basis for calling today Nashville’s 200th birthday? Today is the 200th anniversary of a legislative event that legally rubber-stamped what was already fact: that Nashville existed as an entity: that Nashville was being officially incorporate. But by 1806, Nashville was already called Nashville. Nashville had been settled in December, 1789, when settlers step out of boat on the shore of the Cumberland River. By 1806, for years it had individuals functioning in governmental duties. Its citizens had even been among those voting to send one of their own, Andrew Jackson, to Congress, when on this date 200 years ago, some paper got shuffled recognizing what people had accomplished during the previous 27 years. The elected officials who approved the “incorporation” of Nashville, are not recognized as its founders. So why, 200 years later, should we be re-declaring what they did on this date, it’s birth?
I moved to Nashville 27 years ago, in 1979. A few months after I moved to Nashville, I walked down the street from where I worked to check out a big parade celebrating the 200th Birthday of Nashville. It was part of a huge event called Century III and there were activities all year long. It was a big deal with thousands and thousands of Nashville citizens celebrating the beginning of Nashville’s third century. I was reminded of that celebration today when I saw that event commemorated — “etched in stone” on one of the granite history markers that are now a feature of the new Public Square. That’s right, there’s a granite stone in the park that was being opened today that explains that 26 years ago, we celebrated Nashville’s 200th birthday. Yet less than 25 yards away, they were serving a birthday cake that said “Happy 200th Birthday, Nashville.”
I can understand why an aging Hollywood star might want to shave of 26 years off his or her age, but why would a city want to shave off a quarter century of its history? Why do we want to say we are 200 years old when we have a legitimate claim on 226? Do we want to suggest that the grand children of the founders of Nashville were wrong when they celebrated the 100th anniversary of Nashville in 1880? Do we want to suggest that Mayor Richard Fulton and all the thousands of citizens that celebrated the 200th anniversary of Nashville in 1980 were incorrect?
I cringe when I hear government officials imply that the birth of Nashville was an act of government. The birth of Nashville was an act of bold faith by pioneering individuals who started building it on the day they stepped out of a boat in December, 1779. I attended today’s event to celebrate the opening of a wonderful new downtown green space. I was there to celebrate Nashville. But when it comes to celebrating Nashville birthday, I prefer celebrating Nashville’s 226th Birthday on December 27.
One last history lesson about birthdays.
America’s anniversary celebrations are counted from the year, 1776, when its founders risked their lives declaring independence from England — not when our Constitution was adopted in 1787 to officially organize our government. Likewise, Nashville has dated its anniversary celebrations from 1778-80 for over 125 years: first in a centennial celebration in 1879-80 and then in a “Century III celebration in 1979-80.
So count me in on celebrating the history and present and future of Nashville. But count me out when you count up the years Nashville has been here and you stop a 200.