34. A church in The Nations: New Nashville neighborhoods informed by the old.


Close up of elderly woman with white hair and wearing a paisley print blouse plays the accordion. The woman, right facing, fills two thirds of the photo. The accordion keyboard is visible with her right hand on the keys at bottom of frame. Her head is tilted back with her eyes closed. She is smiling. To the woman's left and in the background of the photo a person plays a console upright piano and is blurred due to narrow depth of field. Black and white photograph.

Miss Nancy Rhoda was one of the great news photographers of her generation. She came to Nashville by way of San Fransisco and made a life for herself in the American South. She shined bright in the 1970s especially, diving deep into old America, celebrating the extraordinary, challenging bad beliefs, even risking her life–she embedded with the Ku Klux Klan and published an expose of their devilish culture. Fearless. Nancy introduced me to country music “outlaw” Chris Gantry, whom she photographed in the 1970s. She introduced me to Jack Corn, who hired her as the first female photojournalist for The Tennessean.

The day we met, a Friday, we sat in her home in a wooded Nashville suburb and looked at old photographs and talked about the changing city of Nashville–the changing South! And how many things have remained the same in some ways–good things like kindness, neighborly attitudes, even towards “outsiders” and “newcomers” to the city such as she once was.

Nancy showed us photographs of a little pentecostal church in west Nashville, a neighborhood now called “The Nations,” and told us what a wonderful congregation it was so many years ago when she photographed them. She said that little place had “a good spirit” and seemed to say something about the heart of old Nashville. She wondered if the church was still there, especially with the explosive growth those particular neighborhoods have experienced in the rapid growth of the city.

The next morning, Saturday, I received a phone call from Nancy early in the morning.

“I looked it up and the church is still there,” she said. “And they are having a yard sale this morning! I just thought you might want to know and have a visit.”

I grabbed my gear and went. And there it was, the old Nashville living and breathing kindly among the shiny new.


Members of Friendship Pentecostal Church greet one another on the side porch of the church where they set up their yard sale and have a little fun with the merchandise .

While they wait for customers some members have a Bible study in the recreation hall.

They find the book of photographs they were featured in years ago after photojournalist Nancy Rhoda did a photo story on their church. They open it to the pages showing their photos and they share the story with a younger generation.

Sister Sally, right, has been with the church from its humble beginnings. After the yard sale they have “church” and Sally and the church sing.

At the end of the day the church has set up a surprise for Sister Sally to celebrate her 80th birthday.

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