By Reginald Stuart
NASHVILLE, TN — Nashville bid farewell this week to one of its long time Jefferson Street merchants and former city council member Edward L. Whitmore, Sr.
Whitmore, a Stanton, Tennessee Native native who graduated from Brownsville’s Carver High School then moved to Nashville to pursue a degree at Tennessee State University, became a well regarded, successful entrepreneur in North Nashville and champion for minority businesses in the Jefferson Street business district.
“He was an asset to the community,” said City Council member Edward Kendall, who grew up on Jefferson Street a few blocks from Whitmore’s Phillips 66 Gas Station situated on the Northwest corner of 18th Avenue North and Jefferson Street. “He was a pioneer in entrepreneurship,” said Kendall, who included Whitmore in his book “A Walk Down Historic Jefferson Street.”
“He was a great entrepreneur,” said former Metro Schools teacher and city council member Melvin Black, echoing the sentiments of others. Black remembers Whitmore’s friendly smile and recalled it was not to be taken as a sign of weakness.
Whitmore, known for his cordial smile and courtesy, ran a multi-island Phillips 66 full service station from 1965 to 1970, according to his family biography. He later ran the city’s first Black owned store selling auto parts.
In the mid-1960s, when the State Department of Transportation forced scores of businesses and families to move as it brought Interstate 40 through the heart of the North Nashville community, Whitmore joined a group of minority business owners to protest the Interstate coming through the neighborhood with no plan for an exit or entrance to the highway.
Whitmore and other business owners including realtor Inman Otey, barber Robert Craighead, publisher T.B. Boyd Jr., and others, successfully lobbied the state and got ramps built for North Nashville, the Whitmore biography says.
Whitmore’s family history and other sources note he “was passionate” about Blacks supporting Black business. He insisted his three sons purchase their athletic goods at Jefferson Street’s College Crib and that he and his wife “do their weekly grocery shopping” at the new Otey’s grocery market on Clarksville Highway, according to his brief family biography.
Whitmore made an ambitious move in 1969, recognizing North Nashville had no minority auto parts vendor, despite more and more Blacks owning cars and more gas stations doing auto work. He opened North Nashville Auto Parts on Jefferson Street in the old Lord N’ Lady clothing store and ran it from 1969 until 1988. Initially opened as a Mopar (Chrysler) auto parts supplier, he was the only black-owned Mopar franchisee in the nation, the Whitmore biography says.
Like a number of locally owned merchants in the area, Whitmore was sensitive to the needs of his constituents, said Walter, one of his three sons. He “rescued many students” with help at the auto parts shop,” he said, noting his father would comment that “if they can’t afford the repairs, they shouldn’t have a car.”
That said, Whitmore would let students “crash” at the Whitmore family home for a day or two if they got evicted or were waiting for the dorms to open on campus. “He was that kind of guy,” the Whitmore’s son said.
He is survived by three sons and his widow, Patricia Flowers Whitmore-Kendall, from whom he divorced in 1977. She resides in Baltimore where she continued to pursue a career in health care. The three sons, now all adults, live in Texas, New York and Nashville.
A memorial service in Whitmore’s honor was held earlier this week at Schrader Lane Church of Christ.