Travel to Brownsville, Tennessee
This February, take a day trip out to a historic elementary school in West Tennessee in honor of Black History Month.
Written By: Kristin Luna
Photographers: Kristin Luna
A town of 10,000 people just a few miles off the interstate, Brownsville is a relative unknown to many Nashvillians. But most will recognize Haywood County’s most famous native, Anna Mae Bullock, otherwise known as Tina Turner.
The Queen of Rock ’n' Roll was born in 1939 just down the road in Nutbush, also home to acclaimed bluesman Sleepy John Estes. From first to eighth grade, she attended Flagg Grove, which was named for her great-uncle Benjamin Brown Flagg, who sold an acre of his land to a trustee who was taxed with building the one-room schoolhouse. From the late 1890s until midway through the 20th century, the school was an educational center for African-American students in northwestern Haywood County. It was shut down in the 1960s and eventually used as a barn and corn crib.
In recent years, a group of locals—calling themselves the Friends of the Delta Heritage Center—proposed the idea of removing some of the historical artifacts that were still lying dormant in the school; that preservation effort involved picking up the structure and moving it 15 miles via 18-wheeler to Brownsville, which now owns it. The relocation was completed in 2012.
The two years that followed saw an ambitious fundraising effort. The restoration cost nearly $300,000, about a third of which Turner donated after hearing about the initiative. The school is now part of the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center and has been filled with Turner memorabilia, including costumes from her 2008-2009 50th anniversary tour, gold records, and her yearbook from St. Louis, where she moved for high school.
Brownsville is 153 miles—or roughly two hours and 15 minutes—west of Nashville, just off of I-40.
The West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center is just one of the spots you’ll want to check out in Brownsville.
One of the town’s most recognized attractions, The Mindfield towers above downtown Brownsville at 75 feet and is the tallest metal sculpture in Tennessee. Pay a visit to local artist Billy Tripp’s quirky work-in-progress, which started in 1989 and attracts thousands of visitors, then drive out to Temple Adas Israel, which is on the National Register of Historic Places as one of the country’s last surviving 19th-century synagogues.
Next, take a stroll around the nearby square, rimmed with historical markers, and do a little shopping as you mosey. At Lock, Stock & Barrel, you’ll find a little bit of everything—including the kitchen sink. This secondhand shop’s inventory changes constantly and features an array of new, used, and antiques furnishings as well as a random assortment of home goods. All That’s Victoria sells a selection of clothes, oils, candles, and handmade jewelry—no two pieces are alike. And Livingston’s, in business since 1966, is a fine furniture and gift store that occupies the former post office building.
For breakfast or coffee, the newly opened Silver Lining Café serves up a strong cup of joe and a bevy of baked goods. But you can’t come to Brownsville without paying a visit to the Queen of Barbeque—according to the Southern Foodways Alliance, at least—aka Helen Turner of Helen’s BBQ. At her no-frills shack, the pitmaster whips up delicious sandwiches, like pulled pork or bologna, with made-from-scratch ingredients.