As published by the Daily News Journal, Sunday, February 21, 2010
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 city attorney 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 Murfreesboro
neighborhood 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 intersection of
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 story. 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, “but logical.”)
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 residents, 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 southern
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 population, 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 riot after World War II” 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 near the
railroad tracks and between the Nickajack and Utoy Creeks. Mink Slide communities 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 so-named area
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 threatened.)
The fact that the Mink Slide name has been used widely in the past to identify a black business neighborhood does not, however, explain how this
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 Hollywood
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 life and
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 neighborhoods. 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 its
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 slide…”).
Greg Tucker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.