Art can tell stories and highlight controversies, and a prominently displayed new piece is doing just that. A single image shares both the story of a longtime resident and her fast-changing historic neighborhood.

Pulling from blue and orange paints, artist Omari Booker tells stories on canvas of North Nashville and Jefferson Street.

"As an artist, you just have your eyes open, and you just see what's going on around you," said Booker.

There's a lot to see. On any given day, there could be a jam session at Jefferson Street Sound, a chess board set up at Headlinerz barbershop. The old clubs played host to the greats; Little Richard, BB King, Jimi Henrix and Ike and Tina Turner. 

"I hope to be able to paint it the way I see it," said Booker. "That's colorful and energetic and a lot of love. It's a special place."

For a sense of true history in his storytelling, Booker knew he'd have to find someone with deep family ties to Jefferson Street.

"Our great grandparents and grandparents purchased it in 1920," said Elois Freeman, sitting on her family's porch. "I am fourth generation of family that has lived here. 2518 Jefferson Street."

Freeman remembers a very different Jefferson Street from her childhood.

"We had a self-contained community, especially in a segregated world," she said. "There was a drug store at one point, a hardware store, the movie theater, a bakery. Everything."

The memories tend to come flooding back, sharing a porch with Barton Harris.

"Well, it used to be quieter," laughed Harris as another large truck drove by. "Elois is my sister, older sister."

The two laughed again.

They were young children during the Nashville sit-ins when people worked to end the segregation of lunch counters downtown. Some of those sit-ins were planned from inside the homes on Jefferson Street. 

"The elders in the neighborhood are the ones who experienced it in a really visceral way," said Booker. "As younger people, it's our job to listen and continue to tell that story."

What changed Freeman's world came with the arrival of I-40 decades ago.

"It split the community throughout Nashville, the African American, black community throughout the city," she said. "Your community's broken up. Your neighbors are gone. At the time, you felt it, that you're disregarded, that you're being attacked."

"It separated us from our churches, separated us from our schools," said Harris.

Today, Freeman still sees barbershops, beauty shops, schools and education, but her neighborhood as she knows it, is changing again. Tall, skinny homes are springing up around the neighborhood.

"That progress means pushing some out," said Freeman. "The people who have been here, that have that heritage, that's your wealth. That's your wealth."

Freeman said the offers have been coming in to buy up 2518 Jefferson too.

"Everything's not about money," she said. "It's about your soul. It's about your family. There are many who are saying 'no', and we are amongst those."

In that, Booker found a story to tell and had an opportunity for it to be seen by many. 

An exhibit at the Frist Art Museum shares murals of North Nashville artists. Booker's piece is created of razor wire and building materials. It features a painted image of Freeman sitting on her family's porch. 

"I'm usually inspired to tell some story that will help push the community forward," said Booker. "Gentrification ended up being that issue."

"In the midst of social changes, economic changes, this house represents stability," said Harris.

"She is a gift to me, and she is a gift to all of Nashville," said Booker, referring to Freeman. "I'm grateful."

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Reporter

Forrest Sanders is an award-winning reporter, videographer and editor at News4.

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