12 04 2009

You have to give the May family points for persistence.  In the face of a dead real estate market and a tanking economy, they are pursuing their goal of creating a new downtown for Nashville out in the green, rolling country of Bell’s Bend–a downtown with remarkably limited access and a handpicked population.  It reminds me of Robert Anton Wilson‘s sarcastic epigram, “If the government doesn’t trust the people, why doesn’t it dissolve them and get a new people?”  In this case, it’s more a question of big business not trusting the people–but hey, there’s not a lot of difference any more, is there?

The latest chapter in this drama is downright Machiavellian.  The Mays have donated 250 of their roughly 1500 acres to Tennessee State University, augmented by a $400,000 endowment for a “chair of sustainable agriculture.”  To further sweeten the pot, they have promised to help build an agricultural  “research park” in Maytown Center  that will “help develop partnerships with businesses in the area,” according to the Nashville Post.

TSU president Melvin Johnson called the bribe, excuse me, gift from the May family “the most transformative opportunity” in the traditionally black, traditionally underfunded  school’s history.  It is not reported whether he shouted “Hosannah,”  “shook his wooly mane in joy,” or did a “buck dance,” but my possibly paranoid notion about the feudal nature of the Mays’ vision is reinforced by the fact that they are arranging to have the darkies out toiling in the fields.

Oh, the irony!  A “chair of sustainable agriculture” and a “sustainable agriculture research park” established at a site that will require massive, unsustainable infrastructure development, not unlike those suburban sprawls with names like “Deer Park Way” and “Rambling Rill Drive” that have destroyed the deer park and the rambling rill that gave them their names.

And oh, the cleverness of splitting the blacks and the predominantly white environmental community–how dare we stand in the way of this wonderful opportunity for TSU!!?

Well, there is an upside to TSU getting that bottomland. even if  the “research park” that would come with Maytown Center is nevr built.  The school does have a solid agricultural program already, and could be a terrific partner in the agricultural renaissance that needs to happen not just on Bell’s Bend, but all around Nashville.  As I’ve detailed in other stories, it is going to take thousands of small farmers to feed Nashville locally, and at this point in time there are only dozens.  We need the moral equivalent of war, folks, if we’re going to keep eating.

And what’s really going on behind the scenes?  The Mays have lost nothing but a tax liability by giving TSU 250 acres of undevelopable floodplain; the exact nature of the endowment is not public knowledge, but they may be getting a huge tax write off from stocks that are about to go south and leave TSU high and dry.

As to the future of Maytown Center, I see three possibilities.  One is that sensible heads will again prevail and it will not be built.  Another is that it will be built, at least partially, and rapidly become a ghost town as it becomes obvious that the Mays’ business plan was an hugely expensive, unnecessary folly.  And the third possibility is my “paranoid” vision of it as  Fortress Maytown, a restricted access community where the wealthy will be able to seal themselves off from the chaos that this country could so easily descend into, while the darkies grow organic food for them.  I’m voting for the first option.  Once more unto the breach, good friends.

music:  James McMurtry, “Candyland



11 responses

12 04 2009
Mike Johnson

You are a racist pig.

12 04 2009

What a cheap shot! You are clearly either too stupid to understand irony or are trying to smear me for personal gain–i.e., you stand to profit from the deal…ok, maybe there’s another alternative–I don’t know everything….. Since that’s all you can come up with in response to what I’m saying, let me quote an old legal maxim:

“If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the facts and the law are against you, make an ad hominem attack.” That is precisely what you have done, indicating that you know that what I said is true, you just don’t like it. Shame on you!

13 04 2009
Mike Johnson

This is where you let your Klan robe slip:

>>>>It is not reported whether he shouted “Hosannah,” “shook his wooly mane in joy,” or did a “buck dance,”<<<

I suppose it is fine for major white institutions to receive gifts from wealthy business owners … but how dare TSU benefit from commerce in Tennessee.

13 04 2009
Mary Ann Roberts

I really think your choice of words were out of order in the way they used to prove a point. I think you sir have been misinformed. I myself actually live in the area and have heard from representatives from both groups. I support the development based on those conversations. I feel confident enough to go over my decision with you and other interested parties.

13 04 2009

Mr. Johnson–it is simply ludicrous to accuse me of racism. To quote Frank Zappa, “I’m not black but there’s a whole lot of times I wish I wasn’t white.” (Why? Because, in my view, most of the harm that has been done to our planet has been initiated by us honkies.) The “gift” from the May family to TSU, as I said in the article, is a very Machiavellian gift horse designed to create more support for the very misguided Maytown proposal. I am glad TSU got the land and the endowment, and expect they can and will be put to good use without the construction of Castle Maytown.

Ms. Roberts–I am a close neighbor of the Bell’s Bend/Scottsboro area, as I have discussed in previous posts on the subject, and I understand the case for Maytown. IF you accept a certain set of parameters, it can seem to make a lot of sense. However, it looks to me like we are at a time in our history when the parameters, and the paradigm, are about to undergo a major shift, whether we like it/want it to or not, and this shift is going to make the whole idea of Maytown pretty irrelevant, so I think it would be a major waste of our resources to pursue its construction, just as the highway construction money in the current “stimulus package” is a major waste of resources. I would be happy to meet with you and others for a face to face discussion of these issues. Thanks for the invitation.

14 04 2009

This post has attracted several comments that I have deleted, as they seem to be made by individuals more intent on obfuscation than clarification, and who, if not merely ignorant, are downright malicious.

I am more than happy to dialogue with those who disagree with me, but we need to listen to and attempt to understand each other to engage in dialogue. That didn’t seem to me to be happening. Try again, guys.

15 04 2009
Owen Womack

Your comments are highly offense to the TSU community. I don’t understand why it is so offensive to you that someone has decided to give land and money to the university to help the students.

We need jobs and good opportunities.

Why is that wrong?

15 04 2009

Thanks for asking!

Please note that the piece is entitled “MAY FAMILY MAKES TSU AN OFFER IT CAN’T REFUSE.” I have a few friends who work at TSU and I am well aware that it is chronically underfunded by the (predominantly white) state legislature which put Pres. Johnson in a tough position because of the string attached to the May family’s gift: the research center would only be built IF Maytown Center gets built.–and Maytown Center is either a completely boneheaded idea, given our current-and-likely-to-get worse economic situation, or else it is a thinly veiled attempt to build a defensible citadel for the (largely white) upper classes in th eevent that the country descends into chaos. It was on the basis of that neo-feudal vision of Maytown that I made comments that have been interpreted as racist. What I was saying was that it seemed to me that the possibly feudal, classist intent of the May family put TSU and its president in a very stereotypical situation–hence my invocation of racist stereotypes which I in no way subscribe to.

That is the problem I have with the May’s gift to TSU–that was made with conditions intended to enlist TSU and the local black community on the side of the developers, which, I believe, is actually the side that is antithetical to their long-term interests, as I expressed above, I think that perhaps the best solution here would be for the Mays to just turn the whole thing over to TSU along with funding for the research facility, and forget about building Castle Maytown. I think that is a solution that the anti-development activists would welcome and that would be of great benefit to the entire region.

Yes, we do need jobs and good opportunities, and I think the field of local agriculture holds a lot more promise than any other sector of what’s left of our economy–though local manufacturing is likely to rise as the international system shuts down. NObody’s making shoes, pants, or hand tools in this town any more, and I think we’re going to need to start doing that again. I appreciate TSU’s efforts to promote local, small-scale agriculture, and I hope that the May family’s gift–however twisted their motives–blooms to its fullest potential–WITHOUT Maytown Center being built.

Have I answered your question?
Again, thanks for asking.

15 04 2009
John Little

Hey I myself as well find this highly offensive to my alma mater and I think it is ridiculous that you can’t find a better choice of words when trying to prove a point. If you have problems with May Town, then talk about May Town. I believe that you are more intelligent than how you project yourself in that article. Maybe it’s not the best move, but from what I have read about the development, it’s a win- win. Both sides win with portions of Bell Bend legally protected and other portions used for development.

With that being said, if it benefits my university as well, then I’m all for it!


19 04 2009

I am amazed that people read this as offensive to TSU…the racially-tinged phrases I used were in quotation marks, because I was indicating that I felt that TSU and its president were being cast in a highly racist role by the May family. the role of field hands or feudal serfs. The post was called “an offer TSU can’t refuse” because I am aware of its difficult financial situation. I have made it clear in responses to others’ comments that I am glad TSU got the land, etc., it’s the strings that are attached to it that trouble me.

Then again, when I consider the way the Maytown advocates packed the planning committee meeting by paying people to attend, I have to wonder if some of the negative response to this post comes those with a financial stake in Maytown who are only claiming to be TSU alumni, and whose motive was to muddy the waters by accusing me of racism

Building Maytown Center is not a “win-win” situation, even with the gift to TSU. As I said in the post, I strongly suspect that Maytown is intended as a gated community. And certainly there will be people of color among its residents and workers, but you can bet that most of those workers will be on the maintenance staff. Some will be in management–just like Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell- I hope we can agree that they are not good role models!

It’s not about race, it’s about class–and Maytown is an offensive by the uber-wealthy, an attempt to establish a secure beachhead for themselves,and devil take the rest of us, black or white.

And yes, I will choose my words more carefully next time. Thanks for writing.

10 04 2010

[…] “B’rer Obama An’ De Tar Baby,”(since withdrawn pending revision) and I once wondered in print whether TSU president Melvin Johnson “shouted ‘Hosannah!’, “did a […]

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