Photo: NATHAN MORGAN | NASHVILLE BUSINESS JOURNAL
The Green Book featured roughly a dozen businesses in Nashville, back in the 1960s. According to the Tennessee Tribune, only two of them remain today: R&R Liquor Store and Swett’s, two of Nashville’s oldest Black owned businesses. On December 13th both businesses will receive the Green Book Legacy Award, given by the Nashville Minority Business Center.
The Green Book was, for many Black families, as much a source of salvation and sanctuary as any religious text. The Green Book wasn’t merely a travel guide that highlighted the best brunch in town. Indeed, it was a publication that safely guided Black people to safe spaces to eat, stay and avoid terrorism, as they traveled across the country. In a time when Black people were not allowed to stay at hotels, a time when showing up to the wrong restaurant could cost one their life, the Green Book was an absolute necessity. These two Nashville businesses are a part of that legacy, thus honoring them is appropriate.
Swett’s is a soul food restaurant founded in 1954, R&R a liquor store that was founded 70 years ago, which still maintains its original neon sign from the 1950s. While the history is quaint, the present reality is sobering — none of the other businesses in Nashville featured in the Green Book are still around. That means the possibility of creating generational wealth was never realized, for those entrepreneurs and their descendants. Whatever the reasons, those businesses are long gone and those who would come after were forced to start over. Old money cannot be found at the starting line.
Nashville was a hotbed of protest, the place where the first successful campaign to integrate a lunch counter took place, spearheaded by Diane Nash of Fisk University. Nash and others fought for inclusion and opportunity, to their credit. Future generations, however, have often failed to fight as vigorously for strong Black businesses.
The past cannot be undone, the present is where opportunities must be harvested. Swett’s and R&R are being recognized within the 37th Annual Nashville Minority Enterprise Development Week (MEDWeek). This weeklong celebration highlights the contributions of minority owned businesses to the national economy. Black owned businesses matter, not only for their contributions to the broader economy but for the vitality of Black neighborhoods and families. To that end, each of us is responsible for making sure all of them exist in another 50 years.