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Students from University Course ‘Historic Black Nashville’ Visit Fort Negley

Posted by on Monday, June 18, 2018 in Historic Black Nashville, News.

The University Course ‘Historic Black Nashville’ was offered for the second time during the spring 2018 semester. To chronicle some of the highlights of the course, several students authored blogs reflecting on site visits the class took during the semester. Over the next few weeks, these blogs will be published on the VU BreakThru webpage.

The two featured blogs below focus on the class visit to Fort Negley.

Written by Laura Grove 
Fort Negley_3I found our visit to Fort Negley quite eye opening. We began our tour in the visitor center where we watched a short film on the history of the fort and Nashville’s role in the Civil War. While the video did provide a lot of interesting and relevant information, I found it underwhelming. It failed to convey what makes Fort Negley so historically and culturally important – namely the use of an oppressed African American labor force in its creation. This was mentioned, but was by no means the focus of the video. There were also small details that distracted from the video’s message. For instance, when discussing the history behind the fort’s construction and design, “Bonnie Blue Flag,” a Confederate song, played on repeat. This seems strange to me, as Fort Negley was a Union fortification.

Exploring the fort itself was much more interesting. Still, while there were several informational plaques and about the fort and its history, I didn’t feel as if I learned anything more that I had already seen in the visitor center. There was more information about the fort’s design and layout, but most everything else we had already read about. It is always much more interesting and engaging to be surrounded by the thing you are learning about. While I think the site could be improved with additional information about the history of the site, the overall experience was still interesting and worthwhile.

Fort Negley_1

Written by Saatvik Mohan
I had been to Fort Negley once before our visit but had no idea of its history. Oddly enough, the term “fort” never really stood out to me as odd. Perhaps I was just being unperceptive, but I thought of the area as a regular park. And I think herein lies an important issue about history: unless a concerted effort is made to convey history, people will remain ignorant of it. But if they are made aware of that piece of history in an appropriate manner, they may gain respect for it.

Fort Negley_2While our class may have been presented with the history of Fort Negley in that appropriate manner, the park itself has much work to do. When we arrived, we watched a video about the park. Not only was the production and entertainment quality of the video low, making it unengaging to the average citizen, it spent too much time on unimportant things and too little time on important things. Fort Negley was a park built on the backs of oppressed slaves and freedmen, and yet, I had to wait until halfway through the video before I saw a single black face. Instead, the video spent several minutes detailing the many reactions of unfortunate Confederate sympathizers. Even if someone could bear to stay awake through this part of the video, their energy and engagement would have disappeared by the time there was even mention of the people who built the fort.

Traveling through the park was in itself an enjoyable experience. The park is beautiful and still contains architectural elements of the great fort it once was. Along the path, there were several markers that detailed tidbits of information. While I appreciated the intention, these short descriptions were seemingly random and didn’t contribute much to the experience. While there were a few descriptions of black Nashvillians, they seemed unrelated to the park. I don’t believe I saw any descriptions of people that actually built the fort. I enjoyed visiting Fort Negley, but I think that much work needs to be done in how its history is presented.

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