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Tennessee
State of Tennessee
Flag of Tennessee Official seal of Tennessee
Nickname(s): 
The Volunteer State
Motto(s): 
Agriculture and Commerce
Anthem: Nine songs
Map of the United States with Tennessee highlighted
Map of the United States with Tennessee highlighted
Country United States
Before statehood Southwest Territory
Admitted to the Union June 1, 1796 (16th)
Capital
(and largest city)
Nashville
Largest metro Greater Nashville (combined and metro)
Memphis (urban)
Legislature General Assembly
 • Upper house Senate
 • Lower house House of Representatives
Area
 • Total 42,143 sq mi (109,247 km2)
 • Land 41,217 sq mi (106,846 km2)
 • Water 926 sq mi (2,401 km2)  2.2%
Area rank 36th
Dimensions
 • Length 440 mi (710 km)
 • Width 120 mi (195 km)
Elevation
900 ft (270 m)
Highest elevation 6,643 ft (2,025 m)
Lowest elevation 178 ft (54 m)
Population
 (2020)
 • Total 6,916,897
 • Rank 16th
 • Density 167.8/sq mi (64.8/km2)
 • Density rank 20th
 • Median household income
$53,320
 • Income rank
42nd
Demonym(s) Tennessean
Big Bender (archaic)
Volunteer (historical significance)
Language
 • Official language English
 • Spoken language Language spoken at home
Time zones
East Tennessee UTC−05:00 (Eastern)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−04:00 (EDT)
Middle and West UTC−06:00 (Central)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−05:00 (CDT)
USPS abbreviation
TN
ISO 3166 code US-TN
Trad. abbreviation Tenn.
Latitude 34°59′ N to 36°41′ N
Longitude 81°39′ W to 90°19′ W
Tennessee state symbols
Flag of Tennessee.svg
Tennesseestateseallrg.png
Living insignia
Amphibian Tennessee cave salamander
Bird Mockingbird
Bobwhite quail
Butterfly Zebra swallowtail
Fish Channel catfish
Smallmouth bass
Flower Iris
Passion flower
Tennessee echinacea
Insect Firefly
Lady beetle
Honey bee
Mammal Tennessee Walking Horse
Raccoon
Reptile Eastern box turtle
Tree Tulip poplar
Eastern red cedar
Inanimate insignia
Beverage Milk
Dance Square dance
Firearm Barrett M82
Food Tomato
Fossil Pterotrigonia (Scabrotrigonia) thoracica
Gemstone Tennessee River pearl
Mineral Agate
Poem "Oh Tennessee, My Tennessee" by William Lawrence
Rock Limestone
Slogan "Tennessee—America at its best"
Tartan Tennessee State Tartan
State route marker
Tennessee state route marker
State quarter
Tennessee quarter dollar coin
Released in 2002
Lists of United States state symbols

Tennessee (), officially the State of Tennessee, is a state in the Southeastern region of the United States. Tennessee is the 36th largest by area and the 16th most populous of the 50 states. It is bordered by Kentucky to the north, Virginia to the northeast, North Carolina to the east, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi to the south, Arkansas to the southwest, and Missouri to the northwest. Tennessee is geographically, culturally, and legally divided into three Grand Divisions of East, Middle, and West Tennessee. Nashville is the state's capital and largest city, and anchors its largest metropolitan area. Tennessee's population as of the 2020 United States census is approximately 6.9 million.

Tennessee is rooted in the Watauga Association, a 1772 frontier pact generally regarded as the first constitutional government west of the Appalachian Mountains. Its name is derived from "Tanasi", a Cherokee town in the eastern part of the state that existed before the first European American settlement. Tennessee was initially part of North Carolina, and later the Southwest Territory, before its admission to the Union as the 16th state on June 1, 1796. It earned the nickname "The Volunteer State" early in its history due to a strong tradition of military service. A slave state until the American Civil War, Tennessee was politically divided, with its western and middle parts supporting the Confederacy and the eastern region harboring pro-Union sentiment. As a result, Tennessee was the last state to secede and the first readmitted to the Union after the war.

During the 20th century, Tennessee transitioned from a predominantly agrarian society to a more diversified economy. This was aided in part by massive federal investment in the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the city of Oak Ridge, which was established during World War II to house the Manhattan Project's uranium enrichment facilities for the construction of the world's first atomic bombs. These were dropped on Imperial Japan at the end of the war. After the war, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory became a key center of scientific research. In 2016, the element tennessine was named for the state, largely in recognition of the roles played by Oak Ridge, Vanderbilt University, and the University of Tennessee in its discovery. Tennessee has also played a major role in the development of many forms of popular music, including country, blues, rock and roll, soul, and gospel.

Tennessee has diverse terrain and landforms, and from east to west, contains a mix of cultural features characteristic of Appalachia, the Upland South, and the Deep South. The Blue Ridge Mountains along the eastern border reach some of the highest elevations in eastern North America, and the Cumberland Plateau contains many scenic valleys and waterfalls. The central part of the state is marked by cavernous bedrock and irregular rolling hills, and level, fertile plains define West Tennessee. The state is twice bisected by the Tennessee River, and the Mississippi River forms its western border. Its economy is dominated by the health care, music, finance, automotive, chemical, electronics, and tourism sectors, and cattle, soybeans, corn, poultry, and cotton are its primary agricultural products. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the nation's most visited national park, is in eastern Tennessee.

Etymology

Tanasi-monument-cherokee-tennessee
Monument near the old site of Tanasi in Monroe County

The meaning and origin of the word are uncertain. Some accounts suggest it is a Cherokee modification of an earlier Yuchi word. It has been said to mean "meeting place", "winding river", or "river of the great bend". According to ethnographer James Mooney, the name "can not be analyzed" and its meaning is lost.

Geography

See also: List of counties in Tennessee
National-atlas-tennessee
Map of Tennessee

Tennessee borders eight other states: Kentucky and Virginia to the north; North Carolina to the east; Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi on the south; Arkansas and Missouri on the Mississippi River to the west. Tennessee ties Missouri as the state bordering the most other states. The state is trisected by the Tennessee River.

The highest point in the state is Clingmans Dome at 6,643 feet (2,025 m). Clingmans Dome, which lies on Tennessee's eastern border, is the highest point on the Appalachian Trail, and is the third highest peak in the United States east of the Mississippi River. The state line between Tennessee and North Carolina crosses the summit. The state's lowest point is the Mississippi River at the Mississippi state line: 178 feet (54 m). The geographical center of the state is located in Murfreesboro.

The state of Tennessee is geographically, culturally, economically, and legally divided into three Grand Divisions: East Tennessee, Middle Tennessee, and West Tennessee. The state constitution allows no more than two justices of the five-member Tennessee Supreme Court to be from one Grand Division and a similar rule applies to certain commissions and boards.

Tennessee features six principal physiographic regions: the Blue Ridge, the Appalachian Ridge and Valley Region, the Cumberland Plateau, the Highland Rim, the Nashville Basin, and the Gulf Coastal Plain. Tennessee is home to the most caves in the United States, with over 10,000 documented caves to date.

East Tennessee

Map of East Tennessee counties
Map of Tennessee highlighting East Tennessee

The Blue Ridge area lies on the eastern edge of Tennessee, bordering North Carolina. This region of Tennessee is characterized by the high mountains and rugged terrain of the western Blue Ridge Mountains, which are subdivided into several subranges, namely the Great Smoky Mountains, the Bald Mountains, the Unicoi Mountains, the Unaka Mountains and Roan Highlands, and the Iron Mountains.

The average elevation of the Blue Ridge area is 5,000 feet (1,500 m) above sea level. Clingmans Dome, the state's highest point, is located in this region. The Blue Ridge area was never more than sparsely populated, and today much of it is protected by the Cherokee National Forest, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and several federal wilderness areas and state parks.

Stretching west from the Blue Ridge for approximately 55 miles (89 km) is the Ridge and Valley region, in which numerous tributaries join to form the Tennessee River in the Tennessee Valley. This area of Tennessee is covered by fertile valleys separated by wooded ridges, such as Bays Mountain and Clinch Mountain. The western section of the Tennessee Valley, where the depressions become broader and the ridges become lower, is called the Great Valley. In this valley are numerous towns and two of the region's three urban areas, Knoxville, the third largest city in the state, and Chattanooga, the fourth largest city in the state. The third urban area, the Tri-Cities, comprising Bristol, Johnson City, and Kingsport and their environs, is located to the northeast of Knoxville.

The Cumberland Plateau rises to the west of the Tennessee Valley; this area is covered with flat-topped mountains separated by sharp valleys. The elevation of the Cumberland Plateau ranges from 1,500 to about 2,000 feet (460 to about 610 m) above sea level.

East Tennessee has several important transportation links with Middle and West Tennessee, as well as the rest of the nation and the world, including several major airports and interstates. Knoxville's McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS) and Chattanooga's Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport (CHA), as well as the Tri-Cities' Tri-Cities Regional Airport (TRI), provide air service to numerous destinations. I-24, I-81, I-40, I-75, and I-26 along with numerous state highways and other important roads, traverse the Grand Division and connect Chattanooga, Knoxville, and the Tri-Cities, along with other cities and towns such as Cleveland, Athens, and Sevierville.

Middle Tennessee

Map of Middle Tennessee counties
Map of Tennessee highlighting Middle Tennessee

West of the Cumberland Plateau is the Highland Rim, an elevated plain that surrounds the Nashville Basin. The northern section of the Highland Rim, known for its high tobacco production, is sometimes called the Pennyroyal Plateau; it is located primarily in Southwestern Kentucky. The Nashville Basin is characterized by rich, fertile farm country and great diversity of natural wildlife.

Middle Tennessee was a common destination of settlers crossing the Appalachians from Virginia in the late 18th century and early 19th century. An important trading route called the Natchez Trace, created and used for many generations by American Indians, connected Middle Tennessee to the lower Mississippi River town of Natchez. The route of the Natchez Trace was used as the basis for a scenic highway called the Natchez Trace Parkway.

Some of the last remaining large American chestnut trees grow in this region. They are being used to help breed blight-resistant trees.

Middle Tennessee is one of the primary state population and transportation centers along with the heart of state government. Nashville (the capital), Clarksville, and Murfreesboro are its largest cities. Fifty percent of the US population is within 600 miles (970 km) of Nashville. Interstates I-24, I-40, and I-65 service the Division, meeting in Nashville.

West Tennessee

Map of West Tennessee counties
Map of Tennessee highlighting West Tennessee

West of the Highland Rim and Nashville Basin is the Gulf Coastal Plain, which includes the Mississippi embayment. The Gulf Coastal Plain is, in terms of area, the predominant land region in Tennessee. It is part of the large geographic land area that begins at the Gulf of Mexico and extends north into southern Illinois. In Tennessee, the Gulf Coastal Plain is divided into three sections that extend from the Tennessee River in the east to the Mississippi River in the west.

The easternmost section, about 10 miles (16 km) in width, consists of hilly land that runs along the western bank of the Tennessee River. To the west of this narrow strip of land is a wide area of rolling hills and streams that stretches all the way to the Mississippi River; this area is called the Tennessee Bottoms or bottom land. In Memphis, the Tennessee Bottoms end in steep bluffs overlooking the river. To the west of the Tennessee Bottoms is the Mississippi Alluvial Plain, less than 300 feet (91 m) above sea level. This area of lowlands, flood plains, and swamp land is sometimes referred to as the Delta region. Memphis is the economic center of West Tennessee and the largest city in the state.

Most of West Tennessee remained Indian land until the Chickasaw Cession of 1818, when the Chickasaw ceded their land between the Tennessee River and the Mississippi River. The portion of the Chickasaw Cession that lies in Kentucky is known today as the Jackson Purchase.

Climate

Roadway in David Crockett State Park (Autumn 2008 - Horizontal Image)
Autumn in Tennessee. Roadway to Lindsey Lake in David Crockett State Park, located a half mile west of Lawrenceburg.

Most of the state has a humid subtropical climate, with the exception of some of the higher elevations in the Appalachians, which are classified as having a mountain temperate climate or a humid continental climate due to cooler temperatures. The Gulf of Mexico is the dominant factor in the climate of Tennessee, with winds from the south being responsible for most of the state's annual precipitation. Generally, the state has hot summers and mild to cool winters with generous precipitation throughout the year, with highest average monthly precipitation generally in the winter and spring months, between December and April. The driest months, on average, are August to October. On average the state receives 50 inches (130 cm) of precipitation annually. Snowfall ranges from 5 inches (13 cm) in West Tennessee to over 16 inches (41 cm) in the higher mountains in East Tennessee.

Summers in the state are generally hot and humid, with most of the state averaging a high of around 90 °F (32 °C) during the summer months. Winters tend to be mild to cool, increasing in coolness at higher elevations. Generally, for areas outside the highest mountains, the average overnight lows are near freezing for most of the state.

While the state is far enough from the coast to avoid any direct impact from a hurricane, the location of the state makes it likely to be impacted from the remnants of tropical cyclones which weaken over land and can cause significant rainfall, such as Tropical Storm Chris in 1982 and Hurricane Opal in 1995.

The state averages around 50 days of thunderstorms per year, some of which can be severe with large hail and damaging winds. Tornadoes are possible throughout the state, with West and Middle Tennessee the most vulnerable. Occasionally, strong or violent tornadoes occur, such as the devastating April 2011 tornadoes that killed 20 people in North Georgia and Southeast Tennessee. On average, the state has 15 tornadoes per year. Tornadoes in Tennessee can be severe, and Tennessee leads the nation in the percentage of total tornadoes which have fatalities.

Winter storms are an occasional problem, such as the infamous Blizzard of 1993, although ice storms are a more likely occurrence. Fog is a persistent problem in parts of the state, especially in East Tennessee.

Major cities

See also: List of municipalities in Tennessee

The capital is Nashville, though Knoxville, Kingston, and Murfreesboro have all served as state capitals in the past. Memphis has the largest population of any city in the state. Nashville's 13-county metropolitan area has been the state's largest since c. 1990. Chattanooga and Knoxville, both in the eastern part of the state near the Great Smoky Mountains, each has approximately one-third of the population of Memphis or Nashville. The city of Clarksville is a fifth significant population center, 45 miles (72 km) northwest of Nashville. Murfreesboro is the sixth-largest city in Tennessee, consisting of 108,755 residents.

Tennessee's largest cities

Memphis skyline from the air
Memphis skyline

History

Early history

Ftloudouninterior
Reconstruction of Fort Loudon, the first British settlement in Tennessee

The area now known as Tennessee was first inhabited by Paleo-Indians nearly 12,000 years ago. The names of the cultural groups that inhabited the area between first settlement and the time of European contact are unknown, but several distinct cultural phases have been named by archaeologists, including Archaic (8000–1000 BC), Woodland (1000 BC–1000 AD), and Mississippian (1000–1600 AD), whose chiefdoms were the cultural predecessors of the Muscogee people who inhabited the Tennessee River Valley before Cherokee migration into the river's headwaters.

The first recorded European excursions into what is now called Tennessee were three expeditions led by Spanish explorers, namely Hernando de Soto in 1540, Tristan de Luna in 1559, and Juan Pardo in 1567. Pardo recorded the name "Tanasqui" from a local Indian village, which evolved to the state's current name.

At that time, Tennessee was inhabited by tribes of Muscogee and Yuchi people. Possibly because of European diseases devastating the Indian tribes, which would have left a population vacuum, and also from expanding European settlement in the north, the Cherokee moved south from the area now called Virginia. As European colonists spread into the area, the Indian populations were forcibly displaced to the south and west, including all Muscogee and Yuchi peoples, the Chickasaw and Choctaw, and ultimately, the Cherokee in 1838.

The first British settlement in what is now Tennessee was built in 1756 by settlers from the colony of South Carolina at Fort Loudoun, near present-day Vonore. Hostilities erupted between the British and the neighboring Overhill Cherokees, and a siege of Fort Loudoun ended with its surrender on August 7, 1760. The following morning, Captain Paul Demeré and a number of his men were killed in an ambush nearby, and most of the rest of the garrison was taken prisoner.

In the 1760s, long hunters from Virginia explored much of East and Middle Tennessee, and the first permanent European settlers began arriving late in the decade. The vast majority of 18th century settlers were English or of primarily English descent but nearly 20% of them were also Scotch-Irish. These settlers formed the Watauga Association, a community built on lands leased from the Cherokee peoples.

The frontier fort on the banks of the Watauga River served as a 1780 staging area for the Overmountain Men in preparation to trek over the Appalachian Mountains, to engage, and to later defeat the British Army at the Battle of Kings Mountain in South Carolina.

Three counties of the Washington District (now part of Tennessee) broke off from North Carolina in 1784 and formed the State of Franklin. Efforts to obtain admission to the Union failed, and the counties (now numbering eight) had re-joined North Carolina by 1789. North Carolina ceded the area to the federal government in 1790, after which it was organized into the Southwest Territory.

Statehood (1796)

Tennessee was admitted to the Union on June 1, 1796 as the 16th state. It was the first state created from territory under the jurisdiction of the United States federal government.

JohnRossC
Cherokee Chief John Ross tried to defend the Cherokees' rights in court

During the administration of U.S. President Martin Van Buren, nearly 17,000 Cherokees—along with approximately 2,000 black slaves owned by Cherokees—were uprooted from their homes between 1838 and 1839 and were forced by the U.S. military to march from "emigration depots" in Eastern Tennessee (such as Fort Cass) toward the more distant Indian Territory west of Arkansas (now the state of Oklahoma). During this relocation an estimated 4,000 Cherokees died along the way west. In the Cherokee language, the event is called Nunna daul Isunyi—"the Trail Where We Cried." The Cherokees were not the only American Indians forced to emigrate as a result of the Indian removal efforts of the United States, and so the phrase "Trail of Tears" is sometimes used to refer to similar events endured by other American Indian peoples, especially among the "Five Civilized Tribes". The phrase originated as a description of the earlier emigration of the Choctaw nation.

Civil War and Reconstruction

The Tennessee legislature ratified an agreement to enter a military league with the Confederate States on May 7, 1861. On June 8, 1861, voters approved a second referendum calling for secession, becoming the last state to do so.

Many major battles of the American Civil War were fought in Tennessee—most of them Union victories. Ulysses S. Grant and the U.S. Navy captured control of the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers in February 1862. They held off the Confederate counterattack at Shiloh in April. Memphis fell to the Union in June, following a naval battle on the Mississippi River in front of the city. The Capture of Memphis and Nashville gave the Union control of the western and middle sections; this control was confirmed at the Battle of Murfreesboro in early January 1863 and by the subsequent Tullahoma Campaign.

Battle of Franklin II 1864
The Battle of Franklin, November 30, 1864

Confederates held East Tennessee. The Confederates, led by General James Longstreet, did attack General Burnside's Fort Sanders at Knoxville and lost. It was a big blow to East Tennessee Confederate momentum, but Longstreet won the Battle of Bean's Station a few weeks later. The Confederates besieged Chattanooga during the Chattanooga Campaign in early fall 1863, but were driven off by Grant in November.

The last major battles came when the Confederates invaded Middle Tennessee in November 1864 and were checked at Franklin, then completely dispersed by George Thomas at Nashville in December. Meanwhile, the civilian Andrew Johnson was appointed military governor of the state by President Abraham Lincoln.

When the Emancipation Proclamation was announced, Tennessee was mostly held by Union forces. Thus, Tennessee was not among the states enumerated in the Proclamation, and the Proclamation did not free any slaves there. Nonetheless, enslaved African Americans escaped to Union lines to gain freedom without waiting for official action. Old and young, men, women and children camped near Union troops. Thousands of former slaves ended up fighting on the Union side, nearly 200,000 in total across the South.

Tennessee's legislature approved an amendment to the state constitution prohibiting slavery on February 22, 1865. It also ratified the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution (abolishing slavery in every state) on April 7, 1865.

In 1864, Andrew Johnson was elected Vice President under Abraham Lincoln. He became President after Lincoln's assassination in 1865.

Through violence and intimidation against freedmen and their allies, White Democrats regained political power in Tennessee and other states across the South in the late 1870s and 1880s.

Over the next decade, the state legislature passed increasingly restrictive laws to control African Americans. Tens of thousands of taxpaying citizens were without representation for decades into the 20th century. Disfranchising legislation accompanied Jim Crow laws passed in the late 19th century, which imposed segregation in the state. In 1900, African Americans made up nearly 24% of the state's population, and numbered 480,430 citizens who lived mostly in the central and western parts of the state.

20th century

"A group of several hundred workers at Norris Dam construction camp site during noon hour." - NARA - 532734
A group of workers at Norris Dam construction camp site. The TVA was formed as part of Roosevelt's New Deal legislation.

On August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the thirty-sixth and final state necessary to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which provided women the right to vote. Disfranchising voter registration requirements continued to keep most African Americans and many poor whites, both men and women, off the voter rolls.

In 1953 state legislators amended the state constitution, removing the poll tax. In many areas both blacks and poor whites still faced subjectively applied barriers to voter registration that did not end until after passage of national civil rights legislation, including the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Tennessee celebrated its bicentennial in 1996. With a yearlong statewide celebration entitled "Tennessee 200", it opened a new state park (Bicentennial Mall) at the foot of Capitol Hill in Nashville.

The state has had major disasters, such as the Great Train Wreck of 1918, one of the worst train accidents in U.S. history, and the Sultana explosion on the Mississippi River near Memphis, the deadliest maritime disaster in U.S. history.

21st century

In April and May 2010, flooding in Middle Tennessee devastated Nashville and other parts of Middle Tennessee. In 2011, parts of East Tennessee, including Hamilton County and Apison in Bradley County, were devastated by the April 2011 tornado outbreak.

Demographics

Historical population
Census Pop.
1790 35,691
1800 105,602 195.9%
1810 261,727 147.8%
1820 422,823 61.6%
1830 681,904 61.3%
1840 829,210 21.6%
1850 1,002,717 20.9%
1860 1,109,801 10.7%
1870 1,258,520 13.4%
1880 1,542,359 22.6%
1890 1,767,518 14.6%
1900 2,020,616 14.3%
1910 2,184,789 8.1%
1920 2,337,885 7.0%
1930 2,616,556 11.9%
1940 2,915,841 11.4%
1950 3,291,718 12.9%
1960 3,567,089 8.4%
1970 3,923,687 10.0%
1980 4,591,120 17.0%
1990 4,877,185 6.2%
2000 5,689,283 16.7%
2010 6,346,105 11.5%
2020 6,910,840 8.9%
Source: 1910–2020

The 2020 United States census reported Tennessee's population at 6,910,840, an increase of 564,735, or 8.90%, since the 2010 census. Between 2010 and 2019, the state received a natural increase of 143,253 (744,274 births minus 601,021 deaths), and an increase from net migration of 338,428 people into the state. Immigration from outside the U.S. resulted in a net increase of 79,086, and migration within the country produced a net increase of 259,342. Tennessee's center of population is in Murfreesboro in Rutherford County.

According to the 2010 census, 6.4% of Tennessee's population were under age 5, 23.6% were under 18, and 13.4% were 65 or older. In recent years, Tennessee has been a top source of domestic migration, receiving an influx of people relocating from places such as California, the Northeast, and the Midwest due to the low cost of living and booming employment opportunities. In 2019, about 5.5% of Tennessee's population was foreign-born. Of the foreign-born population, approximately 42.7% were naturalized citizens and 57.3% non-citizens. The foreign-born population consisted of approximately 49.9% from Latin America, 27.1% from Asia, 11.9% from Europe, 7.7% from Africa, 2.7% from Northern America, and 0.6% from Oceania.

With the exception of a slump in the 1980s, Tennessee has been one of the fastest-growing states in the nation since 1970, benefiting from the larger Sun Belt phenomenon. The state has been a top destination for people relocating from Northeastern and Midwestern states. This time period has seen the birth of new economic sectors in the state and has positioned the Nashville and Clarksville metropolitan areas as two of the fastest-growing regions in the country.

Ethnicity

See also: African Americans in Tennessee
Ethnic composition as of the 2020 census
Race and Ethnicity Alone Total
Non-Hispanic White/Anglo 70.9% 70.9
 
74.6% 74.6
 
African American 15.7% 15.7
 
17.0% 17
 
Hispanic or Latino 6.9% 6.9
 
Asian 1.9% 1.9
 
2.5% 2.5
 
Native American 0.2% 0.2
 
2.0% 2
 
Pacific Islander 0.1% 0.1
 
0.1% 0.1
 
Other 0.1% 0.1
 
0.3% 0.3
 
Historical racial composition 1940 1970 1990 2000 2010
White 82.5% 83.9% 83.0% 80.2% 77.6%
Black 17.4% 15.8% 16.0% 16.4% 16.7%
Asian - 0.1% 0.7% 1.0% 1.4%
Native - 0.1% 0.2% 0.3% 0.3%
Native Hawaiian and
other Pacific Islander
- - 0.1%
Other race - - 0.2% 1.0% 2.2%
Two or more races - - 1.1% 1.7%

In 2020, 6.9% of the total population was of Hispanic or Latino origin (they may be of any race), up from 4.6% in 2010. Between 2000 and 2010, the Hispanic population in Tennessee grew by 134.2%, the third-highest rate of any state. In 2020, Non-Hispanic or Latino Whites were 70.9% of the population, compared to 57.7% of the population nationwide. In 2010, the five most common self-reported ethnic groups in the state were American (26.5%), English (8.2%), Irish (6.6%), German (5.5%), and Scotch-Irish (2.7%). Most Tennesseans who self-identify as having American ancestry are of English and Scotch-Irish ancestry. An estimated 21–24% of Tennesseans are of predominantly English ancestry.

Religion

Religious affiliation (2014)
Evangelical Protestantism
  
52%
Unaffiliated
  
14%
Mainline Protestantism
  
13%
Historically Black Protestantism
  
8%
Catholic
  
6%
Other Christianity
  
3%
Other faiths
  
3%
Judaism
  
1%
Islam
  
1%

Since colonization, Tennessee has always been, and remains, predominantly Christian. About 81% of the population identifies as Christian, with Protestants making up 73% of the population. Of the Protestants in the state, Evangelical Protestants compose 52% of the population, Mainline Protestants 13%, and Historically Black Protestants 8%. Roman Catholics make up 6%, Mormons 1%, and Orthodox Christians less than 1%. The largest denominations by number of adherents are the Southern Baptist Convention, the United Methodist Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Churches of Christ. Muslims and Jews each make up about 1% of the population, and adherents of other religions make up about 3% of the population. About 14% of Tennesseans are non-religious, with 11% identifying as "Nothing in particular", 3% as agnostics, and 1% as atheists.

Tennessee is included in most definitions of the Bible Belt, and is ranked as one of the nation's most religious states. Several Protestant denominations have their headquarters in Tennessee, including the Southern Baptist Convention and National Baptist Convention (in Nashville); the Church of God in Christ and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church (in Memphis); and the Church of God and the Church of God of Prophecy (in Cleveland); and the National Association of Free Will Baptists (in Antioch). Nashville has publishing houses of several denominations.

Economy

Angus-bull-van-buren-tn1
Black Angus bull in Van Buren County, Tennessee

Major outputs for the state include textiles, cotton, cattle, and electrical power.

Tennessee has over 82,000 farms, roughly 59 percent of which accommodate beef cattle.

Although cotton was an early crop in Tennessee, large-scale cultivation of the fiber did not begin until the 1820s with the opening of the land between the Tennessee and Mississippi Rivers. The upper wedge of the Mississippi Delta extends into southwestern Tennessee, and it was in this fertile section that cotton took hold.

Soybeans are also heavily planted in West Tennessee, focusing on the northwest corner of the state.

Major corporations with headquarters in Tennessee include FedEx, AutoZone and International Paper, all based in Memphis; Pilot Corporation and Regal Entertainment Group, based in Knoxville; Eastman Chemical Company, based in Kingsport; the North American headquarters of Nissan Motor Company, based in Franklin; Hospital Corporation of America and Caterpillar Financial, based in Nashville; and Unum, based in Chattanooga. Tennessee is also the location of the Volkswagen assembly plant in Chattanooga, a $2 billion polysilicon production facility by Wacker Chemie in Bradley County, and a $1.2 billion polysilicon production facility by Hemlock Semiconductor in Clarksville.

Tourism

Graceland sign
Graceland main entrance sign

Tourism contributes billions of dollars each year to the state's economy and Tennessee is ranked among the Top 10 destinations in the US.

Some of the top tourist attractions in the state are: the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Graceland, Dollywood, Beale Street, Lower Broadway, the Ryman Auditorium, Gaylord Opryland Resort, Lookout Mountain, the Ocoee River, and the Tennessee Aquarium.

Music

Johnny Cash and The Tennessee Three 1963
Johnny Cash and The Tennessee Three

Tennessee has played a critical role in the development of many forms of American popular music, including rock and roll, blues, country, and rockabilly.

Beale Street in Memphis is considered by many to be the birthplace of the blues, with musicians such as W. C. Handy performing in its clubs as early as 1909. Memphis is also home to Sun Records, where musicians such as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and Charlie Rich began their recording careers, and where rock and roll took shape in the 1950s.

The 1927 Victor recording sessions in Bristol generally mark the beginning of the country music genre and the rise of the Grand Ole Opry in the 1930s helped make Nashville the center of the country music recording industry.

Three brick-and-mortar museums recognize Tennessee's role in nurturing various forms of popular music: the Memphis Rock N' Soul Museum, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, and the International Rock-A-Billy Museum in Jackson. Moreover, the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, an online site recognizing the development of rockabilly in which Tennessee played a crucial role, is based in Nashville.

Transportation

Airports

Major airports within the state include Memphis International Airport (MEM), Nashville International Airport (BNA), McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS) in Alcoa, Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport (CHA), Tri-Cities Regional Airport (TRI), and McKellar-Sipes Regional Airport (MKL), in Jackson. Because Memphis International Airport is the major hub for FedEx Corporation, it is the world's largest air cargo operation.

Railroads

For passenger rail service, Memphis and Newbern, are served by the Amtrak City of New Orleans line on its run between Chicago, Illinois, and New Orleans, Louisiana. Nashville is served by the Music City Star commuter rail service.

Cargo services in Tennessee are primarily served by CSX Transportation, which has a hump yard in Nashville called Radnor Yard. Norfolk Southern Railway operates lines in East Tennessee, through cities including Knoxville and Chattanooga, and operates a classification yard near Knoxville, the John Sevier Yard. BNSF operates a major intermodal facility in Memphis.

Tribal Governance

The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians is the only federally recognized Native American Indian tribe in the state. It owns 79 acres (32 ha) in Henning, which was placed into federal trust by the tribe in 2012. This is governed directly by the tribe.

State symbols

Mimus polyglottos1
Mockingbird

Education

See also: List of school districts in Tennessee and List of high schools in Tennessee

Education in Tennessee is administered by the Tennessee Department of Education. The state Board of Education consists of eleven members; nine from each Congressional district, a student member, and the executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC), who serves as ex-officio nonvoting member. Public primary and secondary education systems are operated by county, city, or special school districts to provide education at the local level, and operate under the direction of the Tennessee Department of Education. The state also has many private schools.

The state enrolls approximately 1 million K–12 students in 137 districts. In 2020, the four-year high school graduation rate was 89.6%, a decrease of 0.1% from the previous year. According to the most recent data, Tennessee spends $9,544 per student, the 8th lowest in the nation.

Colleges and universities

Vandy-kirkland
Vanderbilt University in Nashville is consistently ranked as one of the top research institutions in the nation

Public higher education is under the oversight of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) which provides guidance to the state's two public university systems. The University of Tennessee system operates four primary campuses in Knoxville, Chattanooga, Martin, and Pulaski; a Health Sciences Center in Memphis; and an aerospace research facility in Tullahoma. The Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR), also known as The College System of Tennessee, operates 13 community colleges and 27 campuses of the Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCAT). Until 2017, the TBR also operated six public universities in the state, but now only provides administrative support.

In 2014, the Tennessee General Assembly created the Tennessee Promise, which allows in-state high school graduates to enroll in two-year post-secondary education programs such as associate degrees and certificates at community colleges and trade schools in Tennessee tuition-free, funded by the state lottery, if they meet certain requirements. The Tennessee Promise was created as part of then-governor Bill Haslam's "Drive to 55" program, which set a goal of increasing the number of college-educated residents to at least 55% of the state's population. The program has also received national attention, with multiple states having since created similar programs modeled on the Tennessee Promise.

There are currently 107 private institutions in Tennessee. Vanderbilt University in Nashville is consistently ranked as one of the nation's leading research institutions. In addition, Nashville is often labeled as the "Athens of the South" due to the many colleges and universities in the city. Tennessee is also home to six historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

Sports

Tennessee's major professional sports franchises. Clockwise from upper left: Tennessee Titans, Nashville Predators, Nashville SC, and Memphis Grizzlies.

Tennessee is home to four major professional sports franchises: the Tennessee Titans have played in the National Football League (NFL) since 1997, the Nashville Predators have played in the National Hockey League (NHL) since 1998, the Memphis Grizzlies have played in the National Basketball Association (NBA) since 2001, and Nashville SC has played in Major League Soccer (MLS) since 2020.

The state is also home to eight minor league teams. Four of these are Minor League Baseball clubs. The Nashville Sounds, which began play in 1978, and Memphis Redbirds, which began in 1998, each compete in the Triple-A East at the Triple-A level, the highest before Major League Baseball. The Tennessee Smokies, which have played continuously since 1972, and Chattanooga Lookouts, which have played continuously since 1976, are members of the Double-A classification Double-A South. Tennessee has three minor league soccer teams. Memphis 901 FC has played in the second-tier USL Championship since 2019. Chattanooga Red Wolves SC has been a member of the third-tier USL League One since 2019. Founded in 2009, Chattanooga FC began playing in the third-tier National Independent Soccer Association in 2020. The state has one minor league ice hockey team: the Knoxville Ice Bears, which began play in 2002 and are members of the Southern Professional Hockey League.

The state is home to 12 NCAA Division I programs. Four of these participate in the top level of college football, the Football Bowl Subdivision. In Knoxville, the Tennessee Volunteers college teams play in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). In Nashville, the Vanderbilt Commodores are also members of the SEC. The Memphis Tigers are members of the American Athletic Conference, and Murfreesboro's Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders play in Conference USA. Nashville is also home to the Belmont Bruins and Tennessee State Tigers, both members of the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC), and the Lipscomb Bisons, members of the ASUN Conference. Tennessee State plays football in Division I's second level, the Football Championship Subdivision, while Belmont and Lipscomb do not have football teams. The OVC also includes the Austin Peay Governors from Clarksville, the UT Martin Skyhawks from Martin, and the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles from Cookeville. The Chattanooga Mocs and Johnson City's East Tennessee State Buccaneers are full members, including football, of the Southern Conference.

Tennessee is also home to the Bristol Motor Speedway, which features NASCAR Cup Series racing two weekends a year, routinely selling out more than 160,000 seats on each date. The Nashville Superspeedway in Lebanon, which previously held Nationwide and IndyCar races until it was shut down in 2011, reopened to host the NASCAR Cup Series in 2021. Tennessee's only graded stakes horserace, the Iroquois Steeplechase, is held in Nashville each May. The WGC Invitational is a PGA Tour golf tournament that has been held in Memphis since 1958.

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