Roughly one year ago, the executives perched at the 50-story Manhattan headquarters of investment firm AllianceBernstein listed 30 U.S. cities they would scout for a lower-cost place where they would shift some jobs.
Nashville was not on that list. And, at the time, the company was not considering moving its headquarters, which had been in New York since its founding 50 years prior.
The situation was radically different on May 2, when AllianceBernstein’s top brass joined government and chamber officials in the state Capitol. At the mic, they heralded AllianceBernstein’s (NYSE: AB) decision to move its corporate headquarters to downtown Nashville. The company intends to have 1,050 jobs in Nashville by the end of 2022. If all those workers were here right now, AllianceBernstein would be one of the five biggest private employers downtown. The average salary of those jobs will be between $150,000 and $200,000, the company said — with bonuses and other compensation pushing that dollar amount even higher. The company is investing $70 million in its move and needs more than 200,000 square feet of office space, giving it the potential to kickstart any of a few office towers on the drawing board in the central business district.
State and local officials see even more significance in AllianceBernstein’s arrival. They believe a company of this scale and caliber will serve as a gateway that puts Nashville in contention to compete for other economic development deals that the area hadn’t previously — similar to the perceived effect of Amazon.com Inc. including Nashville among the 20 North American cities it’s considering for its own massive second headquarters. Mayor David Briley recalled that Nashville was once seen as the "Wall Street of the South," a mantle that has shifted to Charlotte and Atlanta as the banking industry has evolved. For both Amazon and AllianceBernstein, Nashville topped Charlotte, which did not make Amazon’s shortlist and had been a finalist for the AllianceBernstein headquarters, according to multiple sources.
"It’s hard for me to overstate how important this is," said Gov. Bill Haslam. "This opens up an entirely new type of company that would locate here. This is not someone’s back-office operations. We love those, by the way. This is a global headquarters."
AllianceBernstein will be receiving incentives from the state, Metro and the Tennessee Valley Authority. Government officials declined to disclose specifics, saying the arrangements had not yet been formally approved. State law shields such information from becoming public record until that point.
Company president and CEO Seth Bernstein, who came to AllianceBernstein in a shake-up one year ago, listed a number of factors that made Nashville the "clear winner … by every metric we analyzed."
"Moving our corporate headquarters allows us to offer advantages to our employees that we just simply couldn’t do in the New York City metropolitan area: a more affordable cost of living, lower taxes and housing costs, a high quality of life — including much shorter commuting times for many of our people — and a brand-new, state-of-the-art work environment," said Bernstein, who noted that his son attended college here.
"No other city could compete," Bernstein added. "I see Nashville as a game-changer for [AllianceBernstein] … increasing our competitive edge in what is an increasingly challenging marketplace."
AllianceBernstein has about $550 billion of assets under management and 3,500 employees worldwide. About 30 percent of those jobs are coming to Nashville, in at least eight fields, ranging from finance and IT to lawyers and auditors.
Ranked by Employees, full time equivalent 2017
Rank Name Employees, full time equivalent 2017 1 State of Tennessee 25,777 2 Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt 20,428 3 U.S. Government 13,148 View This List
Bernstein and some other members of the company’s leadership will relocate to Nashville. AllianceBernstein is maintaining a New York City office for certain functions, including wealth management.
Notably, among other shout-outs Bernstein gave was one for Williamson Inc., the combined chamber of commerce and economic development agency of Williamson County. Even though the company made clear its headquarters will be in downtown Nashville, multiple Williamson Inc. officials were present for the announcement — a sign of the role that the county’s esteemed school system and stock of executive housing likely contributed to AllianceBernstein’s decision-making.
It’s likely that it won’t just be the housing market that will notice the arrival of AllianceBernstein’s workers in the years to come. One reason civic and chamber leaders covet headquarters is because it means a company’s senior leadership is rooted in the local community, which affects philanthropic and nonprofit support. Bernstein said he wanted his company to become a "vital" part of the region, and government officials made multiple references to AllianceBernstein’s existing charitable contributions.
"This is a big decision for us. We’ve been in New York for 50 years," said Jim Gingrich, the company’s chief operating officer. Part of our evaluation was not just what Tennessee and Nashville were today, but what we think Nashville would be in 10, 20, 30 years. We thought this is a unique environment that was very business-friendly, and one that we wanted to be a part of."
Gingrich said AllianceBernstein didn’t initially intend to uproot its corporate headquarters. "We became increasingly convinced that to create the right type of environment to attract the very best people, and establish the type of culture that is so important, that there needed to be senior-management people in the company taking that lead," he said.
When Robert F. Kennedy’s plane touched down at Nashville’s Municipal Airport, a 30-foot banner stretched across the lobby entrance.
It read, "Suddenly there’s hope for America."
The crush of the wall-to-wall crowd who had come to get a glimpse of Kennedy reinforced the intensity and the urgency of the times.
It was March 21, 1968, and Kennedy — who five days earlier had announced his candidacy for president — was on his way to speak at Vanderbilt University’s Impact symposium.
The event, established in 1964 to give students a voice in an unsettling age, was focused that year on the “Destiny of Dissent.”
Dissent had become part of Nashville’s disposition. From the success of the sit-ins in 1960 to the pursuit of John Lewis’ famous “good trouble” protests, student-led movements in the city fueled civil disobedience and fostered change.
"You can’t stop that kind of avalanche of pride and hope," says Nashville civil rights dignitary Kwame Leo Lillard, who helped desegregate Nashville’s lunch counters, movie theaters and downtown stores.
When Kennedy, the 42-year-old senator from New York, set foot in Music City, he embodied that spirit.
As Kennedy pushed through the airport mob, hundreds of sign-toting onlookers — many students — deafened him, shouting, “Speech! Speech!”
Kennedy obliged, climbing atop an escalator railing and offering an impromptu greeting from the precarious perch.
The crowd went crazy.
Frye Gaillard, the Vanderbilt student chairman of Impact that year, walked by his side.
As a biting wind whipped the rain outside, Gaillard attempted to put up his umbrella. The force of bodies, not the weather, ripped it from his hand, carrying it through the crowd between people’s shoulders.
In the crush, it took Kennedy five minutes to walk 30 feet to a car waiting outside.
When he emerged from the throng, he slipped into the back seat alongside Gaillard and Impact’s other speaker, astronaut John Glenn.
"It feels a little safer in here than out there," Gaillard said.
Kennedy smiled. "Yes," he replied. "It does."
On the other side of the city, a crowd of 10,800 packed Vanderbilt University’s Memorial Gymnasium, waiting impatiently for Kennedy’s arrival.
He was two hours late.
Continuum of student-led crusades
Looking back, Gaillard marvels. The symposium nearly didn’t happen that year.
It was a time of resistance, rebellion and deep reflection in the USA.
The idealism of equality ran stride for stride with the specter of war, and no one knew exactly what would be the defining feel of the decade.
Nashville, at the buckle of the Bible Belt, was considered a place of morality and keen enlightenment.
It was home to myriad colleges and universities, including Fisk, Vanderbilt, American Baptist, Meharry and Tennessee State (then Tennessee A&I).
Although unrest raged overseas, the fight for civil rights gained momentum at home among student activists on the front lines.
Future congressman John Lewis attended American Baptist College in the early 1960s where he was trained to lead the nonviolent protests he would use to organize sit-ins.
Later, he studied at Fisk alongside future Freedom Rider Diane Nash, who boldly confronted Nashville Mayor Ben West in April 1960 on the steps of city’s courthouse in front of 3,000 black marchers.
“Mayor,” she asked, “do you recommend that the lunch counters be desegregated?”
To the shock of many, West said yes.
Nashville made history by becoming the first city in the South to integrate its lunch counters. That bolstered the black community.
"History really has a continuum," says Reavis Mitchell, a Nashville native and professor of history at Fisk. "And we kept believing that optimism was going to roll over and multiply itself."
By the time Mitchell enrolled as a student at historically black Fisk University in the summer of 1965, leaders such as Lewis and Nash had left their marks but moved on to bigger fights.
Two miles across town at the almost entirely white Vanderbilt, the landscape looked different.
There, civil rights were still taking shape.
Conservative, Southern and very segregated
Eileen Carpenter remembers that when her parents dropped her off at an ivy-covered entrance gate at Vanderbilt, the theme from The Twilight Zone played in her head.
"I just had this feeling it wasn’t going to be good," the 70-year-old Baltimore real estate attorney recalls.
She saw only one other black woman.
It was 1965, and Vanderbilt had admitted its first black undergraduate students only the year before. Carpenter could count the number of black students on campus on her fingers.
"Nashville was just…" She pauses. "It was so conservative and very Southern and very segregated."
Carpenter grew up in Nashville; her neighborhood on the east side of the Cumberland River boasted nice homes for black professionals, doctors, lawyers and professors.
She didn’t know she wasn’t allowed to go to certain swimming pools or to sit anywhere but the balconies of the city’s movies theaters. Her parents simply said they didn’t have enough time for those activities or couldn’t afford them.
She watched as the black kids in her neighborhood were bused past the nearby white school while she attended the only integrated Catholic high school in town.
When the sit-ins at Woolworth’s dime store downtown made the news, her parents’ half-truths started to come undone.
As progress persisted, more opportunities presented themselves. Desegregation moved past lunch counters into affluent white universities.
For Carpenter, a lover of astronomy, Vanderbilt offered both Dyer Observatory and an astrophysics degree, which nearby Tennessee A&I did not.
The chance to enroll was a great opportunity.
Vanderbilt, however, also had a contemptible history with race.
In the late 1950s, the Rev. James Lawson enrolled in Vanderbilt Divinity, in part so he could begin a push for social justice that Martin Luther King Jr. wanted him to start in Nashville.
Lawson conducted early morning classes in nonviolent resistance at a nearby church, where students role-played as demonstrators and attackers to prepare for the hatred they would encounter.
Despite the peaceful efforts, Vanderbilt officials were incensed about Lawson’s protest activities and expelled him.
By 1964, educational institutions in the South were forced to confront segregationist underpinnings.
A shift from nonviolent to proactive
The Vanderbilt student body tended to be more conservative than its radical protesting peers. But as violence broke out at Berkeley, Vanderbilt officials became concerned.
To address potential unrest, Chancellor Alexander Heard approved an initiative called Impact.
The program brought controversial figures selected by the students to campus and gave students an active role in addressing what they deemed unjust. The first Impact Symposium was held in 1964.
By 1967, Impact had tackled divisive topics such as sex, war and race. Speakers included Allen Ginsberg, Strom Thurmond, Martin Luther King Jr. and Stokely Carmichael.
The appearance of two high-profile black men in the recently desegregated Southern city emboldened some and enraged many others.
Carmichael, in particular, was a polarizing figure.
Tough-minded and militant, he served as head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the leading spokesman of the Black Power movement.
He often made national headlines for the incendiary actions he left in his wake.
“It was your daddy’s NAACP, your daddy’s Martin Luther King,” Mitchell says. “Stokely represented activism, not passive resistance. He was a romantic figure."
And much reviled.
The Tennessee Senate passed a resolution chiding Impact planners for giving the “dangerous, unprincipled demagogue the dignity of its platform."
Dozens of Vanderbilt donors wrote to the chancellor and organizing committee angry at the inclusion of Carmichael and King in Impact’s lineup.
"Students do not need to drink from the gutter to know what’s in the gutter," came one note to the chancellor, scrawled in cursive blue ink along the margin of a newspaper clipping showing the headline "Carmichael Talk Draws Fire."
‘We’re all in this together’
The day before Carmichael was to arrive at Vanderbilt, his advance team — four black men with bandoliers of bullets crisscrossing their chests and Roman sandals on their feet — strode into the office of the campus chaplain.
There to greet them was Gaillard, a tall, skinny white boy from Mobile, Ala.
"It fell to me,” Gaillard recalls, “to tell them we had death threats against Stokely, and to ensure his safety, we arranged to have police protection."
Gaillard grew up in a place where white people implicitly believed they were better than black people. He didn’t meet a white person who thought otherwise until he came to Vanderbilt.
He had never been as dogmatically certain about segregation as his parents. Joining Impact was his way of refuting the racism of his roots.
"We think of police as the occupying army," one of Carmichael’s men responded brusquely.
Gaillard summoned his will.
"In this set of circumstances," he said, "we need to think we’re all in this together."
The next day, when 85 policemen were prepared to keep the peace, Carmichael led a standing ovation from the crowd as King entered Memorial Gymnasium to evaluate equality. It was three days after King’s politically charged anti-war speech at Riverside Church in New York.
In his deep and measured tone, King told the crowd of 3,500 that nonviolence was the most potent weapon. He also condemned the inequalities that inspired unrest.
"There is nothing more dangerous than the man who feels he has no status," he said.
"As long as justice for all people is postponed," he said, "there will continue to be riots."
He seemed to predict the future.
Riots and radical change
The following afternoon, Carmichael, 25, stood behind the very same podium and preached something completely different.
As he started his speech, a white student in the balcony unfurled a Confederate flag over the rail. Carmichael paused.
"Just as long as you don’t burn down any of my churches," he said, a touch of Caribbean accent in his voice.
Then he began a sophisticated lecture on black power to a predominantly white audience.
In the crowd, Carpenter — late into her sophomore year at Vanderbilt — listened with special interest.
In her first year at Vanderbilt, she felt a crushing mix of loneliness and depression.
"Nobody called me names, nobody spit at me," she says. "Everybody was polite. If they caught your eye, they might even smile. But it also seemed like you just weren’t there. They just kind of ignored you."
She wanted to transfer, maybe to Tennessee A&I, the historically black university where her father taught, but she worried about the repercussions.
"I felt that it would embarrass my parents, that it would embarrass my race," she says. "I thought maybe they wouldn’t let more blacks in at Vanderbilt if I failed.”
Carmichael’s words enlightened her.
She attended Vanderbilt, but she wasn’t a part of Vanderbilt.
"He opened my eyes to the fact (that) discrimination doesn’t just have to be lynchings and throwing rocks at you," she says. "It’s an assault on your humanity, and that’s real."
It wasn’t the first time Carpenter had seen Carmichael speak. A month earlier at Fisk, he talked to a small group of students in a classroom on campus.
She went with a girlfriend and approached him afterward to invite him to a meeting of black Vanderbilt students hoping to organize an Afro-American Association at the university.
The meeting was to take place at her parents’ home after his speech at Impact.
He showed up — but nothing happened exactly as anticipated.
‘They’re rioting in Nashville’
As Carpenter paced her house awaiting the arrival of her esteemed guest, the city outside began to rage.
When her roommate arrived, throwing open the door of the Carpenters’ brick, three-bedroom, split-level home, the stricken look on her face screamed something was wrong.
"They’re rioting in Nashville," she said.
Carpenter switched on the news. Reports described "several hundred Negroes" roaming the streets, throwing rocks, bricks and bottles at the police officers who were trying to disperse them.
Carmichael was spotted in the clash on Jefferson Street, reports said.
"Almost right after they said that," Carpenter recalls, "Stokely and some Fisk students walked in the door."
He certainly wasn’t in any mood to have a meeting. "Let’s party," he said.
They didn’t stay long.
A storm had been stirred.
When passive Nashville disappeared
The next day, on a sleepy Sunday morning, Nashville woke up to a horrifying headline:
Riot flares in Fisk area
For two stifling spring nights, race riots ripped through the city, punctuated by sporadic gunshots, persistent rock-throwing, scattered fires and tear gas.
A Fisk student was shot in the leg. A Tennessee A&I student got a bullet in the neck. Thirty-six were arrested.
"The riots were a coming of age of a new young, black Nashville," says Mitchell, who walked to his father’s liquor store in north Nashville when the violence escalated in case his family needed him.
“It was an active Nashville. … The passive, old Nashville disappeared.”
Police and politicians blamed the riots on Carmichael.
Rep. Harry Lee Senter — a Democrat from the town of Bristol in the far east corner of the state — stood in front the Tennessee House and proclaimed in a quavering voice that Nashville suffered "a tragic weekend of treason, anarchy, arson and bloodshed" because of Carmichael.
He sponsored a resolution asking U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark to have Carmichael — a U.S. citizen born in Trinidad — deported.
News of the events spread to the coasts. The New York Times ran a front-page story.
Some questioned whether the unrest was stoked by Carmichael’s fiery words or by the preceding effort to silence him.
Either way, Impact was in the fray.
The most conservative Vanderbilt board members called for the resignation of the chancellor, the symposium’s staunchest supporter.
"We knew we did not want to back down from being provocative, from being relevant, from being a student-run organization that made people think," Gaillard says.
In a news release, Gaillard wrote, “Our concern is not with controversy. We do not seek it; neither do we fear it.”
The topic for 1968 would not be surrender, but dissent.
‘I dissent from that, and I know you do, too ‘
At the Impact symposium in March 1968, more than 10,800 people — double the student population at Vanderbilt — crammed inside Memorial Gymnasium.
They listened to young country crooner George Hamilton IV pick folk ballads on his guitar and waited impatiently for Kennedy’s arrival.
It was the largest crowd to attend an Impact symposium.
A two-minute standing ovation greeted Kennedy when he finally walked in.
In front of a massive American flag, he vigorously defended the right to dissent.
"The president tells us we can look forward to summer after summer of riot and repression," Kennedy said to the overflow crowd in his magnetizing Massachusetts twang.
"Here in Nashville, as all across the nation, we have seen the tragic and intolerable consequences. I dissent from that, and I know you do, too."
Carpenter, again, was in Impact’s audience.
At Vanderbilt, she had become more conscious of her race, not less. As the city around her worked to overcome its conflict, she, too, persisted.
She saw dissent as a valid means to create change. But she knew dissent, as it had in Nashville, could turn ugly and dangerous.
When Kennedy finished his speech, people pressed in from all sides to shake his hand. The button was torn from his right sleeve, but Kennedy did not stop smiling.
Robert Kennedy Jr. remembers that his father had many enthusiastic supporters, from people living in the ghettos of New York and California to those on Indian reservations and in Hispanic communities.
College students could be particularly intense.
“The college students really inflamed that point in history,” Kennedy Jr. says. “They were literally looking down the barrel of a gun. And they were angry.”
It was a rousing start to the Impact symposium, which was split into two parts in 1968 because of scheduling conflicts.
The second half was set to take place April 5, featuring speakers John V. Lindsay, the mayor of New York, and Nicholas Katzenbach, undersecretary of the United States.
But on April 4, peaceful dissent met a violent end in Memphis.
In Gaillard’s off-campus apartment, where the sofa was tattered and the kitchen was filled with dirty dishes, the Impact organizing group members were busy with last-minute preparations.
They were sorting through stacks of papers and making confirmation phone calls when someone ran into the room. “King’s been shot,” he shouted.
"It was surreal," Gaillard says.
King’s appearance at Impact the year before was overshadowed by Carmichael’s speech and the riots that followed.
King’s death was not.
Hundreds of Vanderbilt University students, led by 40 black student members of the Afro-American club at the school, marched from campus toward downtown.
They attended an interfaith memorial service at St. Mary’s Catholic Church led by clergymen of four faiths — a rabbi, a bishop, and two reverends.
Riots again threatened the city, tanks took to the streets, and Impact appeared in jeopardy once more as scheduled speakers began to cancel. First Lindsay. Then Katzenbach.
Nashville instituted a curfew to curb the unrest, but Impact — by the grace of city officials — went on as planned.
Gaillard remembers the eloquence of Georgia legislator Julian Bond, the passion of muckraker Jack Newfield, the intelligence of influential conservative William F. Buckley.
King’s death gave every discussion more depth
"But you had to ask, ‘What in the world is going to happen to our country?’ "
Two months later, Kennedy was shot and killed.
A better place
Gaillard says, "Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, for a lot of us, were the embodiment of hope. They were the champions of the idealism that had begun to take root for that whole decade.
"All of a sudden, their appearances at Impact had a tragic urgency that we never expected — or asked for. We were horrified and stricken.
"It was hard to hope after that."
Recovering has been a generations-long struggle, says Gaillard — a writer in residence at the University of South Alabama and an award-winning author who has chronicled the South in eloquent and important ways.
Mitchell says that, just as he saw in 1968, there is a spark of optimism.
"They say every movement needs a martyr," Mitchell says. "In that case, it seems like it was necessary at the time.
"I think King’s death, for a while, made America a better place. It reached those who weren’t easily reached. Lessons were learned.
"I think, in Nashville, much progress was made."
The students of the 1960s are the parents and the grandparents of today. The kids they raise walk out of schools and hold rallies for their own causes.
Gay rights. Women’s equality. Gun control.
"We’ve been waiting for the young people to get fired up," Carpenter says, a satisfaction in her voice. "We’ve got to pass this baton."
It is a different fight, driven by the same spirit.
Reach Jessica Bliss at 615-259-8253 and email@example.com or on Twitter @jlbliss.