Brownsville, Tennessee

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Brownsville, Tennessee
Brownsville TN 2012-04-08 002.jpg
Motto: Heart of the Tennessee Delta
Location of Brownsville in Haywood County, Tennessee.
Location of Brownsville in Haywood County, Tennessee.
Coordinates: 35°35′26″N 89°15′39″W / 35.59056°N 89.26083°W / 35.59056; -89.26083
Country United States
State Tennessee
County Haywood
 • Mayor Bill Rawls
 • Total 9.1 sq mi (23.6 km2)
 • Land 9.1 sq mi (23.6 km2)
 • Water 0.0 sq mi (0.0 km2)
Elevation 390 ft (119 m)
Population (2010)
 • Total 10,292
 • Estimate (2016)[1] 9,782
 • Density 1,178.1/sq mi (454.9/km2)
Time zone Central (CST) (UTC-6)
 • Summer (DST) CDT (UTC-5)
ZIP code 38012
Area code(s) 731
FIPS code 47-08920[2]
GNIS feature ID 1278634[3]

Brownsville is a city in Haywood County, Tennessee. It is the county seat of Haywood County, which is in the broad delta floodplain near the Mississippi River.[4] Its population as of the 2010 census is 10,292.[5]

The city is named after General Jacob Jennings Brown, an American officer of The War of 1812.[6]


Brownsville business district

Brownsville developed in association with cotton plantations and commodity agriculture in the Mid-South. It is located near the Hatchie River, a tributary of the Mississippi River, which originally served as the main transportation routes to markets for cotton. The town is notable for its many well-preserved antebellum homes owned by wealthy planters before the Civil War, and multi-generational family-owned farms.

The Tabernacle Campground was founded in 1826 by the Rev. Howell Taylor, soon after Brownsville was founded. In the 21st century, it serves as the site of an annual "camp-meeting" for descendants of Taylor.

Brownsville's synagogue, Temple Adas Israel, was built in 1882 by German Jewish immigrants, who founded the congregation in the 1860s. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The building is believed to be the oldest synagogue in Tennessee,[7] and is a rare example of a synagogue built in the Gothic Revival style.[8]

Through the late 19th century, whites worked to re-establish supremacy after Reconstruction and impose Jim Crow and second-class status on African Americans. Tennessee effectively disenfranchised most blacks in the state after the turn of the 20th century, excluding them from the political system. The state's congressional delegation and elected officials became predominately Democratic, except for Republicans elected by white residents in East Tennessee.

Haywood County still had a significant black majority in the late 1930s,[9] but they had no way to exercise political power. In 1939 a number of blacks in Brownsville founded a local NAACP chapter and worked to assert their right to register and vote in the presidential election that year. In June 1940 threats were made against the group, and Elisha Davis was kidnapped by a large white mob. They demanded the names of NAACP members and their plans. He fled the town, followed by his family, losing his successful service station and all their property.[10]

On June 20, 1940, Elbert Williams, secretary of the NAACP chapter, and Elisha's brother Thomas Davis were both questioned by police. Thomas was released,[10] but Williams was never seen alive again. His body was found in the Hatchie River a few days later, with bullet holes in his chest.[10] He is considered to be the first NAACP member to have been lynched for civil rights activities. Several other members were run out of town, fearing for their lives.[10][11] The NAACP conducted an investigation and appealed to the Department of Justice to prosecute Williams' murder, providing affidavits of witnesses. FBI agents were sent to the town in September to protect blacks wanting to register to vote, but they were fearful because there had been no prosecution of Williams' killers. NAACP sources said that no blacks registered to vote,[10] as it reported in its magazine The Crisis in October 1940.[12] Davis and his family resettled in Niles, Michigan.[10]

In 2015 the Tennessee Historical Commission approved an official historical marker honoring Elbert Williams. It was dedicated in Brownsville on June 20, 2015, at a memorial service marking the seventy-fifth anniversary of Williams’ death. The featured speaker was NAACP President Cornell W. Brooks.[11]


According to the United States Census Bureau, Brownsville has a total area of 9.1 square miles (24 km2), all land.

Brownsville is situated on the southeastern edge of the New Madrid Seismic Zone, an area with a high earthquake risk.

The Hatchie River runs through Brownsville. It is the longest free-flowing tributary of the lower Mississippi, and contains the largest forested floodplain in Tennessee. The river is home to hundreds of species of fish, including 11 species of catfish, and the alligator snapping turtle. The Hatchie River was named by the Nature Conservancy as one of the "great places" to save. The Hatchie is also designated as a "scenic river" under the Tennessee Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.[13]


The climate in this area is characterized by hot, humid summers and generally mild to cool winters. According to the Köppen Climate Classification system, Brownsville has a humid subtropical climate, abbreviated "Cfa" on climate maps.[14]


Historical population
Census Pop.
1850 971
1860 1,137 17.1%
1870 2,457 116.1%
1890 2,516
1900 2,645 5.1%
1910 2,882 9.0%
1920 3,062 6.2%
1930 3,204 4.6%
1940 4,012 25.2%
1950 4,711 17.4%
1960 5,424 15.1%
1970 7,011 29.3%
1980 9,307 32.7%
1990 10,019 7.7%
2000 10,748 7.3%
2010 10,292 −4.2%
Est. 2016 9,782 [1] −5.0%

As of the census[2] of 2000, there were 10,748 people, 4,105 households, and 2,865 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,178.1 people per square mile (455.0/km²). There were 4,372 housing units at an average density of 479.2 per square mile (185.1/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 36.52% White, 60.72% African American, 0.14% Native American, 0.10% Asian, 0.07% Pacific Islander, 1.83% from other races, and 0.61% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 3.61% of the population.

There were 4,105 households out of which 35.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 38.8% were married couples living together, 27.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 30.2% were non-families. 27.0% of all households were made up of individuals and 11.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.58 and the average family size was 3.11.

In the city, the population was spread out with 29.5% under the age of 18, 10.4% from 18 to 24, 27.1% from 25 to 44, 19.4% from 45 to 64, and 13.6% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 33 years. For every 100 females there were 80.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 73.3 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $27,276, and the median income for a family was $33,782. Males had a median income of $30,313 versus $22,030 for females. The per capita income for the city was $15,217. About 18.0% of families and 21.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 26.3% of those under age 18 and 27.0% of those age 65 or over.


The Mindfield by Brownsville artist Billy Tripp

Pioneer musicians[edit]

Blues singer and guitarist Sleepy John Estes was born in Ripley (Nutbush) and later moved to Brownsville in 1915.[17][18]

Yank Rachell, blues artist and mandolin player, was born in Brownsville in the early 1900s. He recorded, toured Europe, Japan and shortly before his death in 1997 returned to Brownsville to perform Jug Band recordings with John Sebastian and the J-Band.[19]

Contemporary music[edit]

In the song "Delta Dawn" (recorded by Tanya Tucker and others), the lyric "All the folks around Brownsville say she's crazy," is a reference to Brownsville, Tennessee. Credit for the writing of the song is given to songwriter Alex Harvey and former child rockabilly star Larry Collins.

According to a 1990s interview with Zelma Bullock, mother of singer Tina Turner, her daughter was born Anna Mae Bullock in a sharecroppers' cabin in Nutbush on November 26, 1939. Her father was a farm overseer, and Anna Mae lived as a child in the Knoxville area, Nutbush, Ripley and Brownsville.[19][20]

Notable people[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Population and Housing Unit Estimates". Retrieved June 9, 2017. 
  2. ^ a b "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on 2013-09-11. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  3. ^ "US Board on Geographic Names". United States Geological Survey. 2007-10-25. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  4. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Archived from the original on 2011-05-31. Retrieved 2011-06-07. 
  5. ^ Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, Certified Population of Tennessee Incorporated Municipalities and Counties, State of Tennessee official website, 14 July 2011. Retrieved: 6 December 2013.
  6. ^ "Brownsville, Tennessee City Information". US-TN. 2007-10-20. Retrieved 2016-08-10. 
  7. ^ Carroll Van West, Temple Adas Israel, Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, 2009. Retrieved: 15 February 2013.
  8. ^ Marilyn Joyce Segal Chiat, America's Religious Architecture: Sacred Places for Every Community, John Wiley and Sons, 1997, p 296
  9. ^ "Elbert Williams", Letter M. Mitchell to Walter White, NAACP, 1 July 1940, Letter from Mitchell to NAACP headquarters-tab, Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Clinic, Northeastern University School of Law, 2017
  10. ^ a b c d e f g "Elbert Williams", Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Clinic, Northeastern University School of Law, 2017
  11. ^ a b c Jim Emison, "Willliams, Elbert (1908-1940)", Black Past website
  12. ^ "FBI Says It Protected Brownsville Citizens"], The Crisis, October 1940, p. 324
  13. ^ "West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center - An Authentic Southern Experience in the Tennessee Delta :: Visitor Information Center:: Brownsville, Tennessee :: Interstate 40 @ Exit 56". Retrieved 2016-08-10. 
  14. ^ "Brownsville, Tennessee Köppen Climate Classification". Retrieved 2016-08-10. 
  15. ^ "Census of Population and Housing: Decennial Censuses". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on 2006-02-08. Retrieved 2012-03-04. 
  16. ^ "Incorporated Places and Minor Civil Divisions Datasets: Subcounty Resident Population Estimates: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2012". Population Estimates. U.S. Census Bureau. Archived from the original on 17 June 2013. Retrieved 11 December 2013. 
  17. ^ The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, Rutledge Press
  18. ^ A History of Tennessee Arts, University of Tennessee Press
  19. ^ a b Norris, Sharon, Black America Series: Haywood County Tennessee, Arcadia Publishing
  20. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2006-08-03. Retrieved 2006-08-05. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Richard A. Couto, Lifting the Veil, A Political History of Struggles for Emancipation (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1993)
  • Norris, Sharon (2000). Black America Series: Haywood County Tennessee. Mount Pleasant, SC: Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 0-7385-0605-2. 
  • Raye Springfield, The Legacy of Tamar, Courage and Faith in an African American Family (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2000)
  • Patricia Sullivan, Lift Every Voice, The NAACP and the Making of the Civil Rights Movement (New York: The New Press, 2009)
  • West, Carroll Van & Duncan Binnicker, Margaret (2004). A History of Tennessee Arts. Knoxville, TN: The University of Tennessee Press. ISBN 1-57233-239-5. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 35°35′26″N 89°15′39″W / 35.590558°N 89.260902°W / 35.590558; -89.260902