The late John Egerton and I co-edited Nashville: An American Self-Portrait, an “intentional artifact” documenting the city’s remarkable year 2000 through the work of scores of writers, photographers and other contributors. The book went to press in August 2001 and reached stores in late September. It thus became not just a multi-faceted portrayal of one of the most news-filled years in our history but also a portrait in deep detail of an American city at the moment before terrorism transformed the country.
Jim Ridley, now editor of the Nashville Scene, penned the day-by-day chronicle of the year that ran as a ribbon alongside the book’s essays, photos and art. I am posting some nuggets from that variegated ribbon as time permits.
Dec. 26—While watching the Titans-Cowboys game the previous night with old friends, NFL great Joe Gilliam Jr. reportedly nods off on the couch. When friends fail to rouse him, an ambulance is called, but it is too late. Gilliam is pronounced dead on arrival at Baptist Hospital, just four days shy of his 50th birthday. His heart attack ends what has been a long, sad and intermittently hopeful cycle of relapse and recovery. The man known as “Jefferson Street Joe” was named an All-American at Tennessee State in 1970 and ‘71 before being signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers. During the Steelers’ 1974 season, he became the first black starting quarterback in the NFL, and he seemed destined for a brilliant career. But Gilliam began having trouble with drugs, and the QB slot went instead to Terry Bradshaw. Bradshaw went on to NFL glory; Gilliam was waived by the Steelers and spiraled downward into addiction. At one point, he was reduced to a street-dwelling junkie who pawned his two Super Bowl rings for dope. Today, though, he is remembered as Jefferson Street Joe everlasting, the man with the golden hands.
Dec. 27—Five thousand Middle Tennessee Muslims gather at TSU’s Gentry Center to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the holiday that ends the sacred month of Ramadan. The Muslim community in Middle Tennessee was small enough in the 1970s that the Ramadan celebration was held in a private home. A Muslim leader estimates the local population at 15,000, and he foresees the day when the celebration grows large enough to warrant a football stadium.