Chapter 3 discusses Black Bottom, which is located along the Cumberland River in Nashville, Tennessee. Thousands of German and Irish immigrants, poor whites, and African Americans lived on either side of a creek known as Wilson’s Spring Branch. Neighborhood residents suffered and died in the 1873 cholera epidemic as a result of poor sanitation and contaminated water. During Reconstruction, white health officials, journalists, and elected officials used the toponym “black bottom” to racialize space, labeling the whole area and all its residents as black. By the 1890s, engineers had redirected the creek into a sewer and warehouses, lumberyards, churches, schools, large single-family houses, rooming houses, gambling dens, dance halls, and saloons covered the stream valley. Municipal debates raged over the proposed elimination of the neighborhood. Nashville voters ultimately rejected a proposed slum clearance and public park construction project. Housing demolition for infrastructure projects, zoning, and commercial and industrial redevelopment caused significant population decline after 1930. African American history is highlighted in this chapter, which charts the land use trajectory, environmental conditions, and social history of this urban lowland neighborhood.
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