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Brownsville, Tennessee
Brownsville TN 2012-04-08 002.jpg
Heart of the Tennessee Delta
Location in Haywood County, Tennessee
Location in Haywood County, Tennessee
Country United States
State Tennessee
County Haywood
 • Total 9.86 sq mi (25.54 km2)
 • Land 9.86 sq mi (25.54 km2)
 • Water 0.00 sq mi (0.00 km2)
390 ft (119 m)
 • Total 10,292
 • Estimate 
 • Density 956.99/sq mi (369.48/km2)
Time zone UTC-6 (Central (CST))
 • Summer (DST) UTC-5 (CDT)
ZIP code
Area code(s) 731
FIPS code 47-08920
GNIS feature ID 1278634

Brownsville is a city in Haywood County, Tennessee, United States. It is the county seat of Haywood County, located in the western Its population as of the 2010 census was 10,292, down from 10,748 at the 2000 census. The city is named after General Jacob Jennings Brown, an American officer of the War of 1812.


Brownsville TN 2012-04-08 006
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, and is a rare example of a synagogue built in the Gothic Revival style.

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, 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.

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, but Williams was never seen alive again. His body was found in the Hatchie River a few days later. 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. 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, as it reported in its magazine The Crisis in October 1940. Davis and his family resettled in Niles, Michigan.

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.


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.


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.


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%
2019 (est.) 9,435 −8.3%

2020 census

Brownsville racial composition
Race Num. Perc.
White (non-Hispanic) 2,427 24.8%
Black or African American (non-Hispanic) 6,507 66.48%
Native American 18 0.18%
Asian 16 0.16%
Pacific Islander 4 0.04%
Other/Mixed 235 2.4%
Hispanic or Latino 581 5.94%

As of the 2020 United States census, there were 9,788 people, 4,001 households, and 2,428 families residing in the city.


West Main Mindfield 2008
The Mindfield by Brownsville artist Billy Tripp

Pioneer musicians

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

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.

Contemporary music

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.

Notable people

  • Son Bonds (1909–1947), musician
  • Paul Burlison (1929–2003), rockabilly pioneer, guitarist, member of The Rock and Roll Trio
  • Tony Delk (born 1974), basketball player and coach, graduated from Haywood High School
  • Marvin Ellison, Former JCPenny and current Lowe's CEO
  • Clay Evans (1925–2019), gospel singer, pastor and founder of Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago, Illinois
  • Rockey Felker (born 1953), football player and coach
  • Joseph Folk (1869–1923), Circuit Attorney of the city of St. Louis, later 31st governor of Missouri
  • Alfred Alexander Freeman (1838–1926), politician and judge, candidate for governor in 1872
  • Richard Halliburton (1900–1939), adventurer and author
  • Brett Scallions (born 1971), frontman of the band Fuel
  • Jim Thaxton (born 1949), football player
  • Billy Tripp (born 1955), author and artist
  • Tina Turner (born 1939), singer and actress, who lived in nearby Nutbush as a child.
  • Jarvis Varnado (born 1988), basketball player for Hapoel Gilboa Galil
  • William Ridley Wills, American poet, novelist, newspaperman
  • William Ridley Wills (Insurance executive), Founder of National Life and Accident Insurance Company
  • T.I. Webb, Jr. (golfer)

See also

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