Mammals were only Human
As published by the
Daily News Journal, Sunday, February 21, 2010
By Greg Tucker, President
Rutherford County Historical Society
Where a mink has been going to and from the water, the bank will be
worn smooth and bare. We call that a "mink slide." The office of the
is at the end of Murfreesboro's Mink Slide. Ed and Andrea Loughry
are building their new townhouse on the Slide.
But the little weasel with the expensive fur, despite a number of
imaginative theories, has no connection with "Mink Slide," an old
that disappeared sometime before 1960. The Daily News Journal in
1932 queried its readers as to the "bounds" of said
neighborhood, and the origin of the name.
Frank Henry, "the brick man," explained that Mink Slide originally
"extended only from the southwest corner of the square down to the
Vine and South Maple." At that point there was "a business
establishment operated by T. Baldy, a trader in furs and scrap
iron." To get to Baldy's shop from the square, you had "to descend a
sharply sloping hill, sometimes sliding." Since mink pelts, among
others, were sold to Baldy at that location, the neighborhood, said
Henry, came to be called Mink Slide.
Paul Soffiantino, the "coat and tie junk dealer," maintained,
however, that at some earlier time his uncle ran a grocery store on
the junk lot at the
threshold of the Bottoms. It was in an old two-story frame structure
with a "stairless cellar." The only cellar access being a "steep
chute" down which
customers slid "for the social functions held below ... crapshooting
and drinking white mule." Often the customers carried "mink and
other hides with which to gamble." From this, according to
Soffiantino, evolved the name Mink Slide.
In "From Mink Slide to Main Street" (1991), local historian C.B.
Arnette embellished the Henry
Mink Slide, according to Arnette, extended from the present Holden
Hardware location to the fur traders place on Vine. "The 250-foot
length of sidewalk (included) ... a perceptible downward gradient
about twelve feet in length ... a very slippery pavement"
where many supposedly slipped and fell. (In a recent conversation,
Arnette acknowledged that his explanation was original on his part,
As for location, Henry was correct, but the perceived bounds of Mink
Slide expanded over time. Deborah Wagnon in her book "Murfreesboro"
explained that Mink Slide referred to the mostly black neighborhood
extending from the southwest corner of the square to include all of
what was called "the Bottoms." (The low-lying residential area along
Vine from Walnut to Lytle Creek, known for generations as "the
Bottoms" and populated almost entirely by black
disappeared in the 1950s when Urban Renewal demolished blighted
structures and created the Broad Street corridor.)
Murfreesboro journalist Ed Bell colorfully described Mink Slide in
the 1940s as a "little piece of street which slants down from a bent
corner of the square like the neck of a funnel and ends at the rim
of the Bottoms."
But Mink Slide is not a place name unique to Rutherford County. The
term "mink slide" has been used in cities and towns throughout the
states since the end of Reconstruction to identify the local black
business district. Maps of Murfreesboro in the early years of the
20th century show black businesses and residences, and businesses
serving the black
clustered in the South Maple, Vine and South Walnut vicinity.
The Mink Slide community most often referenced in
historical accounts is in Columbia, Tenn., where the "first race
occurred. (The Home Guard unit based in Rutherford County is
credited with putting an end to the riot with a peaceful show of
force in Columbia's Mink Slide in
February 1946. The late Thurgood Marshal, Justice of the U. S.
Supreme Court, first gained national prominence defending a number
of alleged Mink Slide rioters.)
A prominent Mink Slide neighborhood in eastern Atlanta is now a
relatively affluent and diverse neighborhood. Mink Slide Drive runs
railroad tracks and between the Nickajack and Utoy Creeks. Mink
are also found in Tuscaloosa, Moundville and Hale County. In each
locale, the name was used by the early white population to identify
the local black business or residential district.
There is even a Mink Slide Road and Minkslide Creek in Bedford
County (northeast of the regional airport), but this may be the only
that actually connects with the fur-bearing mink. (A type of weasel,
the mink is related to the skunk and emits an acrid odor when
The fact that the Mink Slide name has been used widely in the past
to identify a black business neighborhood does not, however, explain
term came to have such an application. Literary references and some
modern song lyrics provide some insight.
In "The Non-Pro," a Hollywood crime novel by Adam Novak, Mink Slide
is "a dirty old strip club in an ethnic neighborhood favored by hip
players who don't have families waiting for them at home."
Even more interesting is a reference in Gerald Clarke's historically
documented "Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland." Describing the
circumstances of Garland's parents (Rutherford County natives)
before their marriage, Clarke characterizes Murfreesboro's East Main
social life in
the 1890s: "Everyone knew who was up, who was down, and whose
husband was sneaking off for some illicit pleasure in Mink Slide,
the red light
district." The current "Urban Dictionary" (a slang compilation)
suggests that the term has long been associated with "red light
districts" in predominantly black
Some in today's music industry have embraced the Mink Slide name. A
local bluegrass group call
themselves the Mink Slide Ramblers, undoubtedly based on the local
place name. Likewise, a genre of Mink Slide Blues, featuring
Rutherford County natives William Howse (blues harmonica) and Jack
Pearson (acoustic guitar blues), may also derive its name from the
Murfreesboro place name.
Pop-rock and "rap" music writers and performers (with no knowledge
of Rutherford County) have seemingly embraced "mink slide" and all
connotations. The explicit lyrics of "Oh My God" by Pink
(Grammy-winning American R&B, pop-rock and rap singer-songwriter
Alecia Moore) have flooded the cyber world ("... make my mink
Greg Tucker can be reached at