Franklin approves town square markers telling the story of slavery and local African American life


Franklin approves town square markers telling the story of slavery and local African American life

PHOTO: The leaders of the fuller story initiative stand outside the Williamson County Courthouse during a ceremony on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January. From left are Eric Jacobson, Hewitt Sawyers, Chris Williamson and Kevin Riggs. / Photo by John McBryde

By JOHN McBRYDE

Franklin Aldermen on Tuesday approved the placement of historical markers in and around the town square in downtown Franklin to tell the story of how life in Franklin impacted African Americans who were living here before the Civil War, during the Battle of Franklin and after the war was over.

Two of the markers will be placed at the outer circle alongside three steps and a ramp that lead up to the Civil War monument known as “Chip.” One marker will consist of general information about the Battle of Franklin and will face Main Street looking west. The other will tell of the slave market around the town square and will face toward Third Avenue South.

A statue of a United States Colored Troops soldier will be placed near the historic courthouse, in a spot where a Civil War Trails marker currently stands. Alongside the statue will be a marker telling of Reconstruction, while another will be toward Mellow Mushroom and tell of the 1867 riots that occurred in downtown Franklin.

The three pastors and a historian — the fuller foursome, if you will — introduced the project last August and its concept was approved at a September BOMA meeting. Franklin Community Church Pastor Kevin Riggs, Strong Tower Baptist Church Pastor Chris Williamson, Pastor Hewitt Sawyers of Harpeth Primitive Baptist Church and Battle of Franklin Trust CEO Eric Jacobson were all in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting.

Jacobson said it’s been a fairly long process, “but it has been worth it. There has been a lot of input from different people. But it’s always been the right thing to do.”

The initiative met its first challenge in September when the Franklin chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy claimed it owned the land where the Confederate monument stands. The case is still tied up in court after the city of Franklin filed a lawsuit against the UDC to lay its claim of ownership, and Jacobson said the markers will not be installed until the matter is settled.

“The city is committed to see it to the end,” Jacobson said, “because there needs to be determination once and for all who actually owns what. I don’t think it’s going to impact the signs at all, but that issue does need to be resolved.

“In the end, my hope — and I think the hope of the city — is that eventually we’ll be able to deed the UDC the statue and a certain piece of ground, and the ground on which this proposed USCT monument will go will be deeded to another organization. So you’ll have two private organizations that will ultimately control those two monuments.”

The fuller story also hit a rut during a work session in January, when several aldermen pushed back on the plan then that would have placed all four markers in the middle area of the roundabout. Their tunes changed, however, when Riggs, Williamson and Jacobson presented the current plan during the Feb. 12 work session.

Discussion was light before the vote was taken Tuesday night.

“I want to compliment the leaders on this project,” Alderman-at-Large Pearl Bransford said. “It took a village. It took a lot of people coming together with like minds and like hearts to bring this before us so we would have this opportunity to vote on this important statement we’re going to make to our community, our city, our state.”

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