From left: Moderator Robert Blair, the Rev. Scott Roley, Alma McLemore, and the Rev. Hewitt Sawyers participate in a FrankTalks panel on Monday, Feb. 12, 2018.// Photo by Brooke Wanser.
By BROOKE WANSER
Dozens gathered in a meeting room at the Williamson County Enrichment Center Monday morning for a panel discussion centering on black history and race relations in the Franklin area.
The Rev. Scott Roley, a founding member of Christ Community Church and co-author of “God’s Neighborhood: A Hopeful Journey in Racial Reconciliation & Community Renewal,” said he was pleased so many in the community had attended the event, which was February’s FrankTalks, a monthly lecture series hosted by Franklin Tomorrow, .
“Thirty years ago, this meeting would not have looked like this,” he said, noting the diversity of the crowd. “First and foremost, what a great city we live in, and what a great county we reside in!”
The Rev. Hewitt Sawyers, of West Harpeth Primitive Baptist Church, agreed with Roley. “I’d just like to toot the horn of Franklin, Tennessee,” he said. “We have some things we need to work on, but I think we need to recognize the things that do work.”
Moderator Robert Blair, a local business owner and board member of the Franklin Special School District since 2003, shared the story of a newspaper reporter who interviewed him.
“She said, ‘Robert Blair is a black man who does a lot for his community.’” As she read the quote back to Blair, he corrected her: “What I want to explain to you is, Robert Blair is a man who is black. I’m a man, first and color, second.” Blair continued, quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “I wanted her to look at not the color of my skin, but the content of my character.”
Sawyers, who said he has lived within 50 miles of Nashville his entire life, related his childhood experience in Williamson County, attending a segregated school and living in a primarily white neighborhood. “That community was so close knit that I really didn’t know what segregation was until almost the time that I was in college. That’s the kind of neighbors that we had.”
Alma McLemore, the president of the African-American Heritage Society, noted a need to accurately represent history, while thanking those who work together to uphold it.
“The past is not pretty, so much of it is not pretty, but we cannot ignore it. We have to share the things and appreciate the work our ancestors did,” McLemore said, pointing to the former slaves who built many of the oldest structures in town. “We are here because they were there,” she said, to applause. “We want to come together in peace and love to share our history.”
Mindy Tate, the executive director of Franklin Tomorrow, said she had noted a sense of peace and mutual respect, and asked panelists if they noticed it too.
“Overt racism we see in so many places isn’t seen here,” said Roley. “I think there is a covert racism. Yes, there’s a calm, but those calms can change very quickly.”
“We need to make sure that we are proactive regardless of the situation in working with race,” agreed Sawyers, while noting the issue of affordable housing in the community.
“Affordable housing is still something that’s going to be a real problem until we get some more things done on the local level,” he said.
McLemore said she believed a concern in the community made the town stronger, but pointed out a need for civility: “As we deal with one another, just know that you’re a child of God and you want to be the best that you can be and you want to show that person love and respect.”
FrankTalks are held on the second Monday of every month, and the public is invited to attend. Franklin Tomorrow is an organization focused on engaging the community on questions of growth and other community issues.