Columbia, Tennessee

Columbia, Tennessee

Columbia, Tennessee courthouse square

Nickname(s): Mule Town
Motto: Old South Charm, New South Progress

Location of Columbia, Tennessee
Coordinates: 35°36′54″N 87°2′40″W / 35.61500°N 87.04444°W / 35.61500; -87.04444
Country United States
State Tennessee
County Maury
  Total 29.6 sq mi (76.7 km2)
  Land 29.6 sq mi (76.7 km2)
  Water 0.0 sq mi (0.0 km2)
Elevation 643 ft (196 m)
Population (2015)Estimated
  Total 40,000
  Density 1,116.8/sq mi (431.2/km2)
Time zone Central (CST) (UTC-6)
  Summer (DST) CDT (UTC-5)
ZIP codes 38401-38402
Area code(s) 931
FIPS code 47-16540[1]
GNIS feature ID 1269483[2]
Website City of Columbia

Columbia is a city in and the county seat[3] of Maury County, Tennessee, United States. The population was 34,681 at the 2010 census[4] and in 2013 the population was 35,558.

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", with more pre-Civil War homes than any other county in the state. Columbia is also the home of the national headquarters for the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Columbia is home to one of the last two surviving residences of the 11th President of the United States, James Knox Polk, the other being the White House.


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

A year after the organization of Maury County in 1807 by European Americans, 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. For decades during the antebellum years, it was the county seat when Maury County was the richest in the state, based on its agricultural wealth in plantations, which cultivated commodity crops of tobacco and hemp, and high-quality livestock. There were many farms for breeding thoroughbred race horses. To support these industries, the county slaveholders held a significant proportion of slave workers. Although Tennessee had competitive voting during Reconstruction, in the late 19th century, the state legislature passed laws to disenfranchise African Americans, a political exclusion that continued deep into the 20th century. This adversely affected racial relations for decades in Columbia and Maury County.

The county had some racial violence in the decades before World War II. In 1924 a black man was shot and killed in the courthouse by his alleged victim's brother after his sentence was set aside. In 1927 and 1933, young black men were lynched in Maury County for alleged assaults against white women; the first was held only as a suspect, and the other had been released by the court when a grand jury did not indict him.[5] In 1933 Cordie Cheek, a 19-year-old black man, was falsely accused of raping a white girl. He was abducted by white men including law officials, castrated, and lynched by a white mob near Columbia.[6]

During World War II there was an expansion in Columbia of phosphate mining and the chemical industry to support the war effort. By the 1940 census, the total city population was 10,579,[7] of whom more than 3,000 were African American.[5] Chemical plants were a site of labor unrest between white and black workers after the war, as veterans sought to re-enter the economy. Black veterans did not want second-class status after having fought in the war.[5] This period led to a more active campaign for civil rights during the 1950s and 1960s throughout the state.

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

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 arrived to dedicate the new campus on March 15, 1967.

Columbia race riot of 1946

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.[8] The black community well remembered the lynching of Cheek and were determined to defend themselves when threatened.

In a fight instigated by a white repair apprentice, black Navy veteran James Stephenson 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 she had left for repair.[5] A white mob gathered and the apprentice's father convinced the sheriff to charge both Stephensons with attempted murder.[9]

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, starting about one block south of the square. Later whites drove around the area, shooting randomly into it; they called this area "Mink Slide." Armed black men turned out the 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.[5] Eventually through the next day, they and the State Guard rounded up more than 100 black 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.[5][10] 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.[5] The main attorney to defend Stephenson and other men in the case was Thurgood Marshall of the NAACP, together 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.[9]

Marshall asked for a change of venue, hoping to get the trial moved to Nashville or another major city, but the judge surprisingly agreed to move the trial to nearby Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. Local residents there were not happy 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 several blacks. Of two black men tried for murder, only Loyd Kennedy was convicted in his trial of 1947.[10]

The NAACP continued their publicity campaign about the events, which were covered by national media.[5] The case gained much attention on the issue of civil rights for African Americans in the United States, and 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.[5] Marshall was later appointed as the first black United States Supreme Court justice, after gaining the overturn of segregation in public schools by the US Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which ruled that segregation of public schools was unconstitutional.[9]


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).[11] It is nestled along the banks of the Duck River at the southern edge of the Nashville Basin with the higher elevated ridges of the Highland Rim 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, 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).


Historical population
Census Pop.
Est. 201536,800[12]6.1%

As of the census[1] 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.


City council elections

Year Elected Votes % Seat
2011 Carl McCullen[14] 269 67% Ward 1
2011 Debbie Matthews[14] UO Ward 2
2011 Christa Martin[14] 242[14] 88% Ward 3
2011 Mike Greene UO[14] Ward 4
2011 Mark King 304[14] 57% Ward 5



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. [15]




Notable people


  1. 1 2 3 "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on September 11, 2013. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  2. "US Board on Geographic Names". United States Geological Survey. 2007-10-25. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  3. "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Archived from the original on May 31, 2011. Retrieved 2011-06-07.
  4. 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.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Dorothy Beeler, "Race Riot in Columbia, Tennessee/ February 25-27, 1946", Tennessee Historical Quarterly Vol. 39, No. 1 (Spring 1980), pp. 49-61, accessed 6 March 2015
  6. 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.
  7. 1 2 "Census of Population and Housing". U.S. Census Bureau. Archived from the original on May 11, 2015. Retrieved 11 December 2013.
  8. King, Gilbert (2013). Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys and the Dawn of a New America. p. 8.
  9. 1 2 3 Carroll Van West. "Columbia race riot, 1946". Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. Retrieved 2008-07-04.
  10. 1 2 Gilbert King, Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America, HarperCollins, 2012, pp. 8 and 14
  11. "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. Retrieved 2011-04-23.
  12. "Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Incorporated Places: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2015". Retrieved July 2, 2016.
  13. "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 17, 2013. Retrieved 11 December 2013.
  14. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Richard Conn (November 2, 2011). "Newcomer nets council seat". Columbia, Tennessee: Mark Palmer. p. 2C. Retrieved November 2, 2011. Only 1,437, or 8 percent of 19,043 registered voters turned out at the polls.
  15. Climate Summary for Columbia, Tennessee
  16. Chris Graham (May 22, 2008). "Sweet niblets!". Columbia Daily Herald. Retrieved 2008-05-23.
  17. , Columbia Daily Herald, 4 September 2009
  18. "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."
  19. Sterling, Marlin. "Driver". Daytona 500 website. Archived from the original on December 28, 2010. Retrieved April 26, 2011.

Further reading

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

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