For the first time in the history of the town of Franklin, a statue now stands in the historic plaza in honor of the black slaves who enlisted in the American Colored Troops, a separate part of the Army of the ‘Union during the Civil War.
The statue was unveiled on Saturday in a moving ceremony commemorating the troops and their sacrifices. They fought not only for their individual freedoms, but for those millions of enslaved men, women and children across the country. More than 300 men with ties to Williamson County have been identified as USCT soldiers – a number that is increasing as more men are discovered.
The monument is the centerpiece of the Fuller Story Project, which was launched to tell a more inclusive and accurate story of the city, finally including voices long overlooked.
The statue, of a USCT soldier, stands near eye level, so viewers can look him in the eye and see his wisdom, Pastor Chris Williamson said. Williamson is one of the leaders of The Fuller Story Project, along with Pastors Hewitt Sawyers and Kevin Riggs and historian Eric Jacobson.
For many in Franklin, the plaza has long been the center of the community, where they would meet, shop, eat, and enjoy the city. But for most of the city’s history, this was only guaranteed to white residents. Black residents were forced to use water fountains and separate bathrooms, and were forced to source their food from the backs of restaurants rather than the front of the house.
A black friend told Riggs that he had not ventured into the town square because there was nothing for him. The square is where slaves were sold and was the site of lynchings. And while the statue may not undo the past, it is a reminder that black residents are valued, seen, and have a place in the city of Franklin.
Speaking of the history of the place, Sawyers, a native of College Grove, remembers visiting Franklin during his years of apartheid. The square was a reminder of his conditioning as a black man.
âI was conditioned, in other words, to know where I belonged,â he said.
City leaders at the ceremony vowed it wasn’t the end of Fuller Story, but a beginning as other untold stories are uncovered and shared.
What the statue means to attendees – and what should come next
During the unveiling ceremony, The Tennessean asked attendees what the statue meant to them and what they would like to see come next in the city’s goal of telling a more inclusive and accurate story.
Gary Burke, a USCT reenactor who has long championed soldiers’ stories, said more recognition of the African American experience during the Civil War needs to be made.
âIt’s a start, but there should be more education around the subject, especially taught in schools and taught in museums about this rich history,â he said. “It’s a long-awaited recognition of the first freedom fighters who fought to consolidate their freedoms.”
The president of the African American Heritage Society of Williamson County, Alma McLemore, a native of Franklin whose family has lived in the city for generations, was in awe of the event. She has long worked to preserve the stories of the city’s black residents.
âWe all know people who pass by this community, the first thing they see is the statue in the middle,â she said, referring to âChip,â a Confederate statue in the center of the plaza. city.
Other figurines:Cordell Hull statue unveiled at Cumberland University
Now, when they gaze at the historic courthouse, they will see a new statue, one that tells the story of “tears” of courage and determination, McLemore said.
“This is unity,” she said. “It brings people together. We have to come together and tell the whole story.”
Rochelle Wright, a first grade teacher at Poplar Grove Elementary School and originally from Franklin, said the statue gave her hope.
âSomething like this is happening gives hope for the future,â she said.
All agreed that the city has an obligation to continue to dig into its history to share more stories of the black experience. This includes giving a platform to black leaders and teaching black history more in schools.