NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — On Wednesday, Metro Parks unveiled a new historical marker to commemorate the Centennial Art Center’s significant role in Nashville’s civil rights history.
The art center will celebrate its 50th anniversary one month after the inauguration. Metro Parks officials say it’s important to recognize and honor the significant impact of past events, as well as the people who played a significant role in shaping the segregationist policies of the past.
The site of the center was once a public swimming pool and bathhouse for “whites” only in the 1930s and remained so for nearly 30 years.
One day in 1961, two young black men, Kwame Leo Lillard and Mathew Walker Jr., led a small group to swim in the pool but were denied access.
Rather than desegregate the pools, the mayor’s response was to close all of Nashville’s pools, including his first pool in Centennial Park at the time.
Eventually, the other pools reopened, but the Centennial Park Pool and Baths sat vacant for 10 years.
The unveiling of the historical marker commemorated the people and events that took place there.
“This park, this facility is a place to come to learn about some of the civil rights efforts that have taken place to bring the city to where it is today. “It took sacrifice and effort, so the marker we’re unveiling really highlights the fact that we’ve come a long way,” said Jackie Jones, Superintendent of Community Affairs for Metro Parks.
The unveiling of the marker took place at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Centennial Art Center.
A reception in the Art Center gallery followed the unveiling.
Mayor John Cooper, Evelyn Lillard, wife of the late Kwame Leo Lillard, and Dr. Candace Koney, niece of Matthew Walker Jr. will be in attendance.
“I think our community doesn’t really understand the whole story of what happened here. As Director of the Art Center and with us celebrating our 50th anniversary, I really felt it was important to light the way, educate the public about what happened and just say the truth,” said Joshua Wagner, director of the Centennial Art Center. .
This unveiling is one of many events planned this year for the Centennial Art Center’s 50th anniversary.
The 50th anniversary date falls on April 23, the same day as the Earth Day Festival at Centennial Park.