North Nashville, Tenn.’s famed Jefferson Street was once a booming hub for the city’s Black middle class. During the Jim Crow era, Jefferson Street was known for its thriving business and entertainment districts that were supported by key institutions, including four historically Black colleges and universities. Jefferson Street provided an area in which residents could deposit checks in Black-owned banks, shop at Black-owned stores, and dine at Black-owned restaurants.

But in the late 1960s, Nashville city planners built interstate highway I-40 in the middle of North Nashville. White planners did not want a highway to affect property values around Vanderbilt University, so they routed the highway through the Black-majority neighborhood instead. According to the article, the development led to the demolition of 650 homes, which displaced 1,400 residents.

Not surprisingly, today, North Nashville is one of the most economically precarious locations in the metropolitan area. The neighborhood where Jefferson Street sits posts the highest incarceration rate in the nation. This must be contextualized in a discussion of the area’s rampant poverty; that same Brookings report notes that child poverty in this ZIP code is a stunning 42%. And despite the presence of four HBCUs, the college attainment rate is only 30%, compared to statewide rate of 43%.

Recently, Nashville’s city government, chamber of commerce, and other civic organizations and nonprofits partnered to develop a collective strategy to boost college enrollment, with the hope of revitalizing these communities through better job opportunities corresponding to degree attainment.

But without naming or addressing systemic racism, efforts to increase educational attainment in order to increase labor participation and reduce poverty may miss a significant part of the problem. Initiatives to increase educational attainment must address what caused the damage in the first place. In other words, North Nashville residents need reparations.

Read the full article about North Nashville reparations by Andre M. Perry and Anthony Barr at Brookings.