During the early days of the Nashville flood, many north Nashville residents felt like forgotten victims.
North Nashville, Bellevue, Antioch and Pennington Bend were among the hardest-hit communities. But much of the devastation in north Nashville was overshadowed in the media because of coverage of the other communities.
“That is what fueled a lot of anger coming from a lot of people,” said District 1 Metro Councilman Lonnell Matthews Jr. “We were talking about it among each other, but it wasn’t being talked about as a city as a whole. It seemed like Nashville wasn’t seeing what was going on in north Nashville.”
Those north Nashvillians who had electricity saw rising floodwaters outside their windows, if not in their homes, but there were few images of their predominantly African-American neighborhood on TV news. Those without power didn’t see news trucks or throngs of volunteers from other parts of town rushing to their aid. It added insult to injury, a stab to an already hurting heart.
“When you try to make sense of what is going on, you try to identify with what someone else is going through just as much as what you’re going through,” said the Rev. Harold M. Love Jr. of Saint Paul A.M.E. Church. “When you see the TV, it’s not your area. When you read the newspaper, it’s not your area.
“When you read about what’s going on, it’s not your area, and you don’t see yourself. So how do you make sense of the suffering when you’re not being portrayed as one who is suffering? You are being ignored because everywhere else people are being helped.”
Love compared the situation to two people being taken to a hospital with identical injuries. “You get attended to; I’m left on the gurney,” he said. “Everyone talks about you in the hospital, what a horrible wound you received, yet I’m bleeding out and my name is not mentioned. People are talking about what they are going to do to help your situation, and I keep hearing your name and not mine. That is the frustration.”
Love said the media coverage is important for the reader of today and tomorrow. “Video from television may be erased or not stored over the years, but you can still go to the library and pull up a newspaper article from 80 years ago,” he said. “We don’t want to be forgotten about. We want the media to remember the way our lives were changed and transformed.”
Councilmen Matthews and Jerry Maynard have worked overtime this week trying to bring awareness to their constituents’ plights. In addition to going door to door to provide flood victims with the latest information, they made calls to various Metro agencies to begin repairs, recruited volunteers and encouraged the media — sometimes in firm tones — to visit the area. They took Mayor Karl Dean and other city officials — with camera operators following closely behind — on a tour of the area on Wednesday.
“We’ve been working together,” Matthews said. “We’ve been fighting the fight together, calling Public Works and other Metro agencies, like the police department. We did see that the area was being neglected at first. It wasn’t getting the attention it deserves. Not taking anything away from any other area of town, but it should get equal distribution of the resources when we’re trying to help each other out.”
Added Maynard, “All we had to do was make it known. After we made it known, the city responded. I thank Mayor Karl and give him credit.”
The councilmen agree that the presence of the mayor lifted the flood victims’ spirits. “The last couple of days, just seeing the attention, once Metro agencies, the volunteers and the news cameras started coming around, people felt that they were really concerned with what they were going through,” Matthews said. “It put them a little more at ease about, ‘People really do care about us, so we’re going to get through it.’ ”
But both men believe their crusade for this area must continue even though floodwaters are receding. They say it’s crucial that north Nashville receive an equitable share of donations from money raised by the American Red Cross, the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee and other charitable organizations.
“The mayor said we need to raise as much money as we can and help as many people as we can, and so I committed to the mayor; I will do whatever he needs me to do,” Maynard said. “This is the beginning of the recovery. We survived the flood; now we’ve got to do the recovery portion. We’ve got to raise as much money as we can out of state, in state, West Coast, East Coast, in the South, up North. Let’s raise as much money as we can, and let’s pull together as a community.”
Community leaders remain dedicated to telling the story of north Nashville so that it remains a part of any flood recovery conversation during the next year.
“One of the main things that I have observed is the fact that the water did not discriminate,” Love said. “It hit areas in this part of town as much as it hit areas like Bellevue, Antioch and Opryland. Not to say that ours or theirs was any worse, but to say that it was an equal-opportunity flood.”