Chakita Patterson was frustrated.
When it came to black history, the majority of the youth at the Nashville charter school where she was dean of students only seemed to know about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And the walking tours she took in Nashville and other cities “would either say nothing about black history, or there would be one black fact,” she recalled.
“So after months of complaining to my spouse, he was like, ‘listen, you need to do something about it.’” And she did.
Last year, she left the charter school and started her own walking tour company, United Street Tours, that focuses on black history in Nashville. And she’s been busy. The first tour she gave sold out in the first three months.
Currently, she averages about four tours a week. People can choose from three tours: African-American culture, civil rights, and the Nashville Black Wall Street, or Jefferson Street, which thrived decades ago and is now being revitalized. Patterson said she plans to start a new tour in Franklin that will focus on black history there, particularly the involvement of blacks in the Civil War.
“Franklin is a big Civil War town, so we will incorporate some Civil War history,” she said.
Because tourism in Nashville is continuing to grow, Patterson said she tours people from across the country, and beyond: Australia, Canada, Japan, and South Africa, just to name a few places.
She said their reactions are moving.
“A lot of people cry,” she said. “They say, ‘if I would have heard these stories growing up, my life would have been different.’”
But what’s most intriguing, said Patterson, is the reaction she gets from locals.
“I have people say, ‘I’ve lived here my whole life, and I had no idea how rich the black history was right in my backyard.’”
One tour stop that Patterson recently added is a historical marker that recognizes the Nashville slave market.
At one time, Nashville was the second largest slave port in Tennessee. Preceding the Civil War, the space where the marker is located downtown was the center of the slave trade in Nashville.
During her African-American Culture tour, Patterson notes that the first settlers to the area in 1779 brought slaves with them.
“About 30 slaves made that journey,” she said. “And they participated in building Nashville up into the Nashville that we love and enjoy today.”
Dr. Learotha Williams is an associate professor of history at Tennessee State University. He and some of his students successfully worked to have the slave marker erected. Williams said he’s pleased the marker is part of Patterson’s tour, and lauded the work she’s doing.
“It’s an opportunity to get our story out to a wider audience,” he said. “It highlights things people would miss if they came to the Music City (Nashville).”
Michael McLendon, a local actor, said he’s heard about Patterson’s tours and is looking forward to experiencing one.
“If Nashville had such a thing when I hosted my family reunion in this city about five years ago, she would have been the first person I called,” said McLendon. “Because Nashville’s rich history, as it relates to African-Americans, often seems hidden.”
Patterson said shining light on that history is what motivates her.
“I have a responsibility to tell the stories of my ancestors,” she said. “There were so many stories that were never told.”
To learn more about United Street Tours, visit www.unitedstreettours.com.