By Ashley Benkarski
NASHVILLE, TN— One of Nashville’s earliest and most influential African American entrepreneurs, Kossie “K” Gardner, Sr. was honored Jan. 9 for his dedication to historic Jefferson Street with a legacy dating back a century.
The former ‘pocket park’ located directly across from his family business, K. Gardner Funeral Home, 1511 Jefferson St., will preserve his contributions to the community which included the creation of the Bordeaux African American Gold Coast and the first motorized ambulatory service in the Nashville area.
The Gold Coast was the first black subdivision in Nashville.
His granddaughter, Keisha Gardner-Beard, operates her grandfather’s funeral home and cemetery, Hills of Calvary, and organized with community members to create a green space bearing his name.
Once the youngest funeral owner in Nashville, his business was part of Jefferson Street’s establishment as an economic hub that generated a thriving black middle class.
Parks Director Monique Odom opened the park dedication ceremony that included remarks from Jim Harbison, CEO of Metro Housing and Development Agency, Ricky Swift of Metro Water Services, Deputy Mayor Brenda Haywood and Tennessee Tribune publisher Rosetta Miller-Perry, herself a prominent community business owner who once worked as an embalmer with Gardner. MDHA and MWS are responsible for securing the property for the park.
Gardner-Beard ended the ceremony with an emotional display of gratitude— She had worked hard to preserve his legacy in a way that would reflect his generous spirit. In her presentation to the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, Gardner-Beard compiled pictures of her grandfather and the booming Jefferson St. of the 1920s and ‘30s along with newspaper article clippings documenting his legacy. One announced his candidacy for council in the north Nashville district because he felt someone of his race could best represent its residents, saying “I want to serve the best interests of the people of the ward, who are for the most part colored” and advocating for goodwill among the community regardless of background. Another, announcing his passing, noted he would take chickens as partial payment for families who couldn’t fully afford his services. Born Carthegerious Crosby, he was indentured as an infant to be an apprentice to Daniel Gardner, a local farmer. He worked as a farmer and Pullman porter until the passing of his great uncle, the catalyst to his decision to be a mortician, others said.
Arnett Bodenhammer said it was vital for people to remember that Gardner was a self-made man. He began his mortuary career on borrowed money and became successful, which he assigned to luck, he said in an interview. But his hard work, generous spirit and kindness surely played much more of a role.
The Kossie Gardner, Sr. Park is still under development but plans include covered pavilions, a children’s play area and a gathering space that can accommodate 300 people.