By Staff Writer
NASHVILLE, TN — Jefferson Street has been bisected by I-40 for over 50 years — Once viewed as a sign of progress, more recently it has been viewed as a sign of environmental racism.
The decisions of past Nashville leaders, with the signing of the Interstate Highway Act of 1956, to destroy blocks of Jefferson Street and cut it off from downtown, led to decades of business closings. After the prosperous years prior to the building of Exit 207, Jefferson Street saw years of urban decay, although signs are starting to show a revitalization.
The most recent discussion of sewing the wound left by the interstate was the “Jefferson Street Cap” last discussed in 2021, but met with opposition from business owners that worried about gentrification and affordability if the cap became a reality. This led to the cancellation of further meetings. Unlike in the 50s and 60s, the community was listened to, and the plan has since gone dormant.
Recently, Belmont students in collaboration with Fisk University students created a documentary film entitled “Exit 207: The Soul of Nashville” that explores the impact of Exit 207 on the Jefferson Street community. The cap was not the final discussion of how environmental racism has impacted the Jefferson Street community; although much like all art, it doesn’t offer a solution, only a reflection.
A private screening of the film was held on May 7 at Belmont University where it was announced that Nashville Public Television (NPT) was interested in bringing the documentary to the larger Nashville community.
The film, directed by Chase Thomson, seeks to give “[V]oice to prominent Black leaders in the North Nashville community to tell the story of what Jefferson Street used to be, and what it could be in the future.”
If you want to learn more about the film, you can check out www.nashvillesocialjustice.org where you can view the trailer and read the complete director’s statement. The film is expected to hit the festival circuit this summer and be available for viewing after it finishes.