Long Overlooked, Meet The First Woman To Run For Mayor Of Nashville

Sep 2, 2016

With the death of neighborhood activist Betty Nixon this week, several politicians and news outlets — including WPLN — erroneously reported she was the first woman to run for mayor of Nashville. But in realizing our mistake, we learned about Barbara Kurland.

She decided to run for mayor in 1971 based on one issue — the most controversial of the day — school desegregation and federally-mandated busing.

"The worst demagogues came out of the woodwork," she says.

The American Civil Liberties Union activist says she felt like running for mayor was the only way she could be heard.

"Most people were so mad at me — because I thought black and white children should go to school together — that I don't think they noticed I was a woman," she says. "When it was all over, one of the other candidates said to me, 'you know, you were the only gentleman in the race.'"

News coverage made very little mention of her gender. Rather, the focus was on her positions.

Kurland finished with just four percent of the vote in a crowded field that included Beverly Briley, a popular judge who helped establish the city's Metro form of government. But her views did draw attention, and WLAC-AM gave her a mid-day call-in show after the election called "Viewpoint with a Liberal."

That fall, mandatory busing began hauling students across town to more fully integrate the school system, and Nashville didn't see the same violence other southern cities experienced.

"I like to think that I did something along those lines, but I had a very strange campaign," she says.

Kurland never ran for office again. She retired from owning a nicknack store in Franklin. She's now an 87-year-old widow who still goes hiking most days in Warner Park.