To anyone who asks, "What is Jefferson Street?" Perhaps the text of the historical marker that went up on Jefferson Street in Nashville, Tenn. near the I-40 overpass says it all.
From the 1940s through the early 1960s, Jefferson Street was one of America’s best-known districts of jazz, blues, and rhythm and blues. Famous African-American musicians played repeatedly in the many clubs. Little Richard, Jimi Hendrix, Ray Charles, Fats Domino and Memphis Slim performed here regularly. Nashville artists, many with hit records, made the district their home.
Jefferson was jumping. But the golden era was over in the 60s when the Jefferson Street Corridor received two mortal blows – an interstate and desegregation. Interstate 40 bisected the street and cut off traffic to business. Desegregation gave black customers shopping choices in white stores. The once vibrant area was now a collection of businesses just holding on, boarded-up buildings, and cracking sidewalks.
Then, in 1994, a group of people who believed in Jefferson Street came together in a partnership to return Jefferson to its glory. From this tiny pilot program came the Jefferson Street United Merchant’s Partnership (J.U.M.P.) which, ten years later, has a membership of over 180 businesses and business partners.
Today Jefferson Street, with an 88 percent African American population, is still the heart and soul of the social, economic and political African American community in Nashville. But from the Bicentennial Mall and the Farmers Market to Meherry Medical College, Tennessee State and Fisk University and Metro General Hospital – there are changes everywhere.
Jefferson Street is alive and bustling with new restaurants, retail, sidewalk improvements, new apartment complexes, a nine-year Jazz and Blues Festival, and capital investment and construction everywhere.