David Carnes (Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Earnestine L. Jenkins)

The legacy of David Carnes – one of the first African Americans to purchase property in an area that houses Southland Mall in Whitehaven – is now interwoven with the “healthy place” concept being pioneered by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee.

On Saturday and with much fanfare, the first Blue Cross Healthy Place debuted with the opening of the repurposed and revitalized David Carnes Park off Shelby Drive, just west of Elvis Presley Blvd.

“The Blue Cross Healthy Place is the ‘what if,’” said Kevin Woods, president of the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee (BCBST) Memphis Market. “This is a vision realized of what could be possible, if we all dream. You created this vision, Whitehaven. The city gave us a canvas to bring that vision to life.”

Set against the musical backdrop of the Whitehaven High School Marching Band and with hundreds on hand, dignitaries cut the ceremonial ribbon amid the signature royal blue and white colors of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Brand. Soon after, children were running on the gigantic splash pad and climbing on the giant apparatus of bars and slides and seesaws.

In addition to the scenic walking trails unveiled for physical health and healing, there was healing of another kind – the spiritual wholeness of comforting words of unity and acknowledgment of a great community legacy.

“When we work together, positive things can happen,” said Mayor Jim Strickland. “One of the great benefits of this Healthy Place is that it reflects the spirit of David Carnes and his family – a legacy of love. And when I look around, I see love. I see families enjoying themselves and a wonderful sense of shared community.”

City Councilwoman Patrice Robinson led the crowd in a cheer, thanking BCBST on behalf of the Whitehaven community. Phil Sinclair, the grandson of David Carnes, made it clear that he appreciated the company’s helping hand.

“I still have a great love for the land I grew up on,” said Carnes. “Our family home was here. There were fruit trees and nuts. We grew all the nutrition we needed to support our lives. Those things are all gone now, but we are grateful to Blue Cross for the David Carnes Park being repurposed with this Healthy Place.”

The project cost was $5.4 million. Funding has been set aside to maintain the park for years to come so that “the Carnes legacy will live on,” Woods said.


Blue Cross principals looked at seven sites and decided to build the first park in Whitehaven because residents felt that their community needed some attention, said Scott Wilson, director of the BCBST Community Relations Foundation.

According to Wilson, there are three other Healthy Places underway across Tennessee. One site is Chattanooga. Another is in a tiny, middle Tennessee town, where a park is being constructed in the center of town. A third is in Kingsport.

The month of August is the time for communities to apply for a Healthy Place site, said Wilson. Additional information is available at: Blue Cross Healthy Places.com.

The legacy of David Carnes…

 The story of David Carnes is memorialized in the newly refurbished David Carnes Park in Whitehaven thanks, in part, to the research of Dr. Earnestine L. Jenkins of the University of Memphis.

According to Dr. Jenkins:

“Black people have always been a part of Whitehaven. In 1860, before the Civil War, there were 653 whites, one free black man, and 1,671 slaves.

“When slavery ended, some African Americans stayed as the area was developed. They thrived, despite restrictions and the stranglehold of Jim Crow in the South.

“Whitehaven began to be developed as a subdivision about 1908 around the street that is now Whitehaven Lane.

“David Carnes operated a blacksmith shop owned by County Commissioner E.W. Hale, which was located on the site that is now the Southland Mall. He purchased land from one of the early developers in 1918 and was one of the first African-Americans in the area to purchase property in the neighborhood.

“Carnes built a brick house on the site, where he and his wife, Lettie Dixon Carnes, raised their family. Other African-American families settled in the area around the same time and, over the years, built their businesses and made significant contributions to the community. In addition to his work at Hale’s blacksmith shop, Carnes had his own blacksmithing business and taught the trade at Geeter High School.”

Dr. Jenkins, who grew up on Whitehaven Lane, said, “This was a black man who was a pioneer for the black families who helped make Whitehaven and who have stayed here for decades.”

Descendents of three of the seven African-American founding families still live in Whitehaven.