Columbia, Tennessee

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Columbia, Tennessee
Columbia, Tennessee courthouse square
Columbia, Tennessee courthouse square
Official logo of Columbia, Tennessee
Mule Town
Old South Charm, New South Progress Something good around every corner.
Location of Columbia in Maury County, Tennessee.
Location of Columbia in Maury County, Tennessee.
Coordinates: 35°36′54″N 87°2′40″W / 35.61500°N 87.04444°W / 35.61500; -87.04444
CountryUnited States
 • MayorChaz Molder
 • Total33.12 sq mi (85.77 km2)
 • Land33.09 sq mi (85.70 km2)
 • Water0.03 sq mi (0.07 km2)
643 ft (196 m)
 • Total41,690
 • Density1,258.76/sq mi (486.01/km2)
Time zoneUTC-6 (Central (CST))
 • Summer (DST)UTC-5 (CDT)
ZIP codes
Area code931
FIPS code47-16540[2]
GNIS feature ID1269483[3]
WebsiteCity of Columbia
Maury County Courthouse.jpg
Mule Day 2018

Columbia is a city in and the county seat[5] of Maury County, Tennessee, United States. The population was 41,690 as of the 2020 United States census.[6] Columbia is included in the Nashville metropolitan area.

The self-proclaimed "mule capital of the world," Columbia annually celebrates the city-designated Mule Day each April. Columbia and Maury County are acknowledged as the "Antebellum Homes Capital of Tennessee"; the county has more antebellum houses than any other county in the state. The city is home to one of the last two surviving residences of James Knox Polk, the 11th President of the United States; the other is the White House.


The James K. Polk Home in Columbia is the last of President Polk's private homes that is still standing

A year after the organization of Maury County in 1807, Columbia was laid out in 1808 and lots were sold. The original town, on the south bank of the Duck River, consisted of four blocks. The town was incorporated in 1817.

Columbia was the site of Jackson College from 1837 until its destruction by Union troops during the Civil War.

Columbia had five documented lynchings in the 20th century.[7] In 1924 a Black man was shot and killed in the courthouse after his sentence was commuted, by the brother of his victim. In 1927 and 1933, young Black men were lynched in Maury County for alleged assaults against white women; the first, Henry Choate, was being held as a suspect when he was lynched,[8] and was hanged from the courthouse.[9] In 1933 Cordie Cheek, a 19-year-old Black man, was falsely accused of raping a White girl. After a grand jury declined to indict him, he was abducted from Nashville by White men including law officials, and taken back to Columbia. There he was castrated and lynched by a White mob.[8][10]

During World War II phosphate mining and the chemical industry expanded in Columbia to support the war effort. By the 1940 census, the total city population was 10,579;[11] more than 3,000 were African American.[8] After the war, chemical plants were a site of labor unrest between White and Black workers, both in terms of competition for work and efforts to unionize. Veterans sought to re-enter the economy, and Black veterans resisted being pushed back into second-class status after having fought in the war.[8] In the postwar period, Black veterans often became leaders in the growing campaign for civil rights during the 1950s and 1960s throughout the state.

Today, the county is a heritage tourism destination, because of its numerous historic sites. Attractions include the President James K. Polk Home, the Columbia Athenaeum, Mule Day, and nearby plantation homes.

Historic American Buildings Survey, W. Jeter Eason, Deputy District Officer, Photographer June 6, 1936 DETAIL OF WEST ELEVATION. - Clifton Place, State Highway 6, Columbia, HABS TENN,60-COLUM.V,1-1

For instance, Clifton Place is a historic plantation mansion located southwest of the city on Mt. Pleasant Pike (Columbia highway).[12] Master builder Nathan Vaught started construction in 1838, and the mansion and other buildings were completed in 1839, for Gideon Johnson Pillow (1806-1877) on land inherited from Gideon Pillow.[13]

Columbia is the location of Tennessee's first two-year college, Columbia State Community College, established in 1966. President Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife Lady Bird Johnson dedicated the new campus on March 15, 1967.[14] On this visit, the President also visited the James K. Polk Home for a short time.[15]

On June 26, 1977, 42 people, including 34 inmates, died in a fire at the Maury County Jail. Rescue efforts were complicated by the fact that each cell required a separate key, and the dispatcher reportedly had difficulty locating the keys. The fire was reportedly intentionally started by a juvenile inmate.[16]

Columbia race riot of 1946[edit]

On February 25, 1946, a civil disturbance, dubbed "the Columbia Race Riot," broke out in the county seat. It was covered by the national press as the first "major racial confrontation" following World War II.[17]

In a fight instigated by William "Billy" Fleming, a White repair apprentice,[18] James Stephenson, a Black Navy veteran, fought back and wounded him. Stephenson had been on the boxing team and refused to accept being hit. Stephenson had accompanied his mother to the repair store, which had mistakenly sold a radio which she had left for repair[8] to John Calhoun Fleming, Billy's father.[18] A White mob gathered during the altercation. The senior Fleming convinced the sheriff to charge both Stephensons with attempted murder.[19]

Rumors were rife that the Stephensons would be lynched. As Whites gathered in the square talking about the incident, Blacks armed themselves and planned to defend their business district, which they referred to as "the Bottom".[20] It started about one block south of the square. Later that evening Whites drove around the area, shooting randomly into it; they referred to the neighborhood as "Mink Slide." Armed Black men turned out some street lights and shot out others, patrolling the area for defense. Four policemen who entered the area were wounded and retreated, increasing White rage.

Worried that the small police force could not control the mob, the mayor called in the State Guard and the sheriff called in the state Highway Patrol that night. The Guard resisted Patrol requests to arm the White mob. In an uncoordinated effort, the Highway Patrol entered the district early the next morning before a planned time; they provoked more violence and destroyed numerous businesses.[8] Eventually through the next day, they and the State Guard rounded up more than 100 Blacks as suspects in the police shootings. No Whites were charged at that point. Two Black men were killed and a third wounded, in what the police said was an escape attempt while the Highway Patrol was trying to take them from the jail to the sheriff's office.[8][21] The State Guard was withdrawn on March 3.

Twenty-five Black men were eventually charged with attempted murder of the four policemen. Another six were charged with lesser crimes, as were four White men.[8] The main attorney defending Stephenson and other men in the case was Thurgood Marshall of the NAACP. He worked with Z. Alexander Looby, who was based in Nashville but associated with the national legal team, and Maurice Weaver, a White civil rights lawyer from Chattanooga, Tennessee.[19]

Marshall asked for a change of venue, hoping to get the trial moved to Nashville or another major city. The judge agreed to move the trial only to nearby Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. Local residents there were unhappy to be involved in the controversial case. Marshall and his team achieved acquittal from an all-White jury for all but two men. The prosecution dropped their charges against these men, as they believed the convictions would be overturned on appeal. The Stephensons were never tried, nor were four Whites charged with murder, nor were several Blacks. Of two Black men tried for murder, only Loyd Kennedy was convicted in his trial of 1947.[21]

The NAACP continued a publicity campaign about these events, which were also covered by national media.[8] The case gained much attention on the issue of civil rights for African Americans in the United States. The NAACP and other organizations put pressure on President Harry S. Truman to take action to improve the situation. He appointed a President's Committee on Civil Rights, which issued its report in October 1947.[8] In 1948 Truman directed integration of the Armed Services by Executive Order 9981, as a result of the report and his consultation with Black leaders. Marshall was later appointed as the first Black United States Supreme Court justice.[19]


The Old Columbia Dam is a concrete gravity dam constructed during the 1930s, before TVA.

Columbia is located at 35°36′54″N 87°2′40″W / 35.61500°N 87.04444°W / 35.61500; -87.04444 (35.615022, −87.044464).[22] It developed along the banks of the Duck River at the southern edge of the Nashville Basin; the higher elevated ridges of the Highland Rim are located to the south and west of the city.

The Duck River is the longest river located entirely within the state of Tennessee. Free flowing for most of its length, the Duck River is home to over 50 species of freshwater mussels and 151 species of fish, making it the most biologically diverse river in North America. It enters the city of Manchester and meets its confluence with a major tributary, The Little Duck River, at Old Stone Fort State Park. The fort was named after an ancient Native American structure, between the two rivers, believed to be nearly 2,000 years old. The Duck River is sacred to most of the founding Native American tribes east of the Mississippi River.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 29.6 square miles (77 km2), of which 29.6 square miles (77 km2) is land and 0.03% is water. Incorporated in 1817, the city is at an elevation of 637 feet (194 m).


The climate in this area is characterized by hot, humid summers and generally mild to cool winters. According to the Köppen Climate Classification system, Columbia has a humid subtropical climate. [23]

Climate data for Columbia 3 WNW, Tennessee (1991–2020 normals, extremes 1948–present)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 78
Average high °F (°C) 47.9
Daily mean °F (°C) 37.4
Average low °F (°C) 26.9
Record low °F (°C) −20
Average precipitation inches (mm) 4.60
Average snowfall inches (cm) 0.3
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 11.3 11.1 12.6 10.9 11.6 10.5 10.4 9.5 8.1 8.4 9.5 11.7 125.6
Average snowy days (≥ 0.1 in) 0.2 0.6 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.9
Source: NOAA[24][25]


Historical population
Census Pop.

2020 census[edit]

Columbia racial composition[27]
Race Number Percentage
White (non-Hispanic) 26,962 64.67%
Black or African American (non-Hispanic) 7,659 18.37%
Native American 108 0.26%
Asian 430 1.03%
Pacific Islander 19 0.05%
Other/Mixed 2,065 4.95%
Hispanic or Latino 4,447 10.67%

As of the 2020 United States census, there were 41,690 people, 15,070 households, and 9,855 families residing in the city.

2000 census[edit]

As of the census[2] of 2000, there were 33,055 people, 13,059 households, and 8,801 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,116.8 people per square mile (431.2/km2). There were 14,322 housing units at an average density of 483.9 per square mile (186.8/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 64.63% White, 30.13% African American, 0.28% Native American, 0.41% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 2.06% from other races, and 1.46% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 4.70% of the population.

There were 13,059 households, out of which 32.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 46.8% were married couples living together, 16.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 32.6% were non-families. 27.8% of all households were made up of individuals, and 10.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.46 and the average family size was 2.98.

In the city, the population was spread out, with 25.8% under the age of 18, 9.8% from 18 to 24, 28.6% from 25 to 44, 21.0% from 45 to 64, and 14.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females, there were 89.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 84.1 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $35,879, and the median income for a family was $42,822. Males had a median income of $34,898 versus $22,093 for females. The per capita income for the city was $18,004. About 10.9% of families and 13.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 19.7% of those under age 18 and 13.2% of those age 65 or over.


The city is served by Maury County Public Schools. Private schools include Agathos Classical School, Zion Christian Academy and Columbia Academy. The city is home to the main campus of Columbia State Community College, a community college serving nine counties in southern Middle Tennessee.

Popular culture[edit]

  • In 1986, a brief scene from the film At Close Range was filmed east of Columbia at a water-filled rock quarry.
  • In 1999, parts of the film The Green Mile were filmed in Williamsport, near Columbia.
  • In 2002, Stuey was filmed in Columbia and Nashville.
  • The film Daltry Calhoun, starring Johnny Knoxville, was filmed in Columbia and Spring Hill in 2004.
  • In 2009, Hannah Montana: The Movie was filmed at spots in downtown Columbia, at Maury County Airport, and a local dairy farm. Other local area film locations included Franklin High School in nearby Franklin and Nashville.[28]
  • In 2009, scenes for Bailey [2] (2010), a Mario Van Peebles film, were shot in downtown Columbia on the square and in other locations.[29]
  • The music video for Brantley Gilbert and Lindsay Ell’s song “What Happens in a Small Town,” was filmed in Columbia and released in 2019. In addition, Columbia Academy is a major set piece of the video.[30]

Notable people[edit]


  1. ^ "2019 U.S. Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved July 30, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  3. ^ "US Board on Geographic Names". United States Geological Survey. October 25, 2007. Retrieved January 31, 2008.
  4. ^ "Population and Housing Unit Estimates". United States Census Bureau. May 24, 2020. Retrieved May 27, 2020.
  5. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Archived from the original on May 31, 2011. Retrieved 2011-06-07.
  6. ^ "Population and Housing Unit Estimates". Retrieved May 21, 2020.
  7. ^ Lynching in America, 2nd edition Archived June 27, 2018, at the Wayback Machine, Supplement by County, p. 6
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Beeler, Dorothy (1980). "Race Riot in Columbia, Tennessee/ February 25-27, 1946". Tennessee Historical Quarterly. 39 (1): 49–61.
  9. ^ Steelman, John R. (1928). A Study of Mob Action in the South (PhD). University of North Carolina. p. 268.
  10. ^ O'Brien, Gail Williams (1999). The Color of the Law: Race, Violence, and Justice in the Post-War II South. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press. pp. 78–88.
  11. ^ a b "Census of Population and Housing". U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved 11 December 2013.
  12. ^ West, Carol Van (1995). Tennessee's Historic Landscapes: A Traveler's Guide. The University of Tennessee Press (Knoxville). pp. 367–368. ISBN 9780870498817. Retrieved September 1, 2014.
  13. ^ Randal Rust. "Clifton Place". Tennessee Encyclopedia. Retrieved July 2, 2020.
  14. ^ "Our History". Retrieved July 2, 2020.
  15. ^ "President's Daily Diary, March 15, 1967" (PDF). LBJ Library. March 15, 1967. Archived (PDF) from the original on February 4, 2021.
  16. ^ "Tennessee Jail Fire Kills 42, Including Locked-up Prisoners". The New York Times. June 27, 1977. Retrieved April 18, 2020.
  17. ^ King, Gilbert (2013). Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys and the Dawn of a New America. p. 8.
  18. ^ a b Cobb, Jr. 2016, p. 56.
  19. ^ a b c Carroll Van West. "Columbia race riot, 1946". Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. Retrieved July 4, 2008.
  20. ^ Cobb, Jr. 2016, p. 55.
  21. ^ a b Gilbert King, Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America, HarperCollins, 2012, pp. 8 and 14
  22. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. February 12, 2011. Retrieved April 23, 2011.
  23. ^ Climate Summary for Columbia, Tennessee
  24. ^ "NowData - NOAA Online Weather Data". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved October 2, 2021.
  25. ^ "Station: Columbia 3 WNW, TN". U.S. Climate Normals 2020: U.S. Monthly Climate Normals (1991-2020). National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved October 2, 2021.
  26. ^ "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 June 11, 2013. Retrieved 11 December 2013.
  27. ^ "Explore Census Data". Retrieved December 26, 2021.
  28. ^ Chris Graham (May 22, 2008). "Sweet niblets!". Columbia Daily Herald. Retrieved May 23, 2008.[dead link]
  29. ^ [1], Columbia Daily Herald, 4 September 2009
  30. ^ Vissman, Donna (January 21, 2019). "Brantley Gilbert and Lindsay Ell Film Music Video in Columbia". Williamson Source. Retrieved June 1, 2020.
  31. ^ "Eradication of Hog Cholera", Agricultural Research Service Quote: "Marion Dorset of USDA's Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) demonstrated [in 1903] that hog cholera is caused by an ultramicroscopic virus, and hogs recovered from the disease are immune for life."
  32. ^ Sterling, Marlin. "Driver". Daytona 500 website. Archived from the original on December 28, 2010. Retrieved April 26, 2011.

Further reading[edit]

  • Cobb, Jr., Charles E. (2016). This Nonviolent Stuff'll Get You Killed: How guns made the Civil Rights Movement Possible. Durham and London: Duke University Press. p. 56. ISBN 978-0-8223-6123-7.
  • Robert W. Ikard, No More Social Lynchings, Hillsboro Press, 1997
  • Janis Johnson. "A Tense Time in Tennessee", Humanities, March/ April 2004. Volume 2, Number 2. February 20, 2012.
  • Gilbert King, Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America, New York: HarperCollins, 2012
  • Gail W. O'Brien, The Color of the Law: Race, Violence, and Justice in the Post-World War II South, Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1999.
  • Sandra Seaton, The Bridge Party, East End Press, 2016.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 35°36′54″N 87°02′40″W / 35.615022°N 87.044464°W / 35.615022; -87.044464