By JOHN McBRYDE
Alma McLemore has lived in Franklin her whole life.
She is involved in several nonprofits, and her main passion in the community is likely the McLemore House. She’s a descendant, by marriage, of Harvey McLemore, the former slave who built the house in the Hard Bargain neighborhood in 1880. McLemore has served the past five years as president of the African American Heritage Society of Williamson County, which will be holding its 18th annual Black Tie Affair Saturday, Feb. 2.
Franklin Home Page: What do you remember most about growing up in Franklin?
Alma McLemore: I was always a happy individual that just loved people. I had the love of the Lord in my heart so I always treated people the way I wanted to be treated. I grew up in the Natchez area. … My parents didn’t have a lot, they actually never owned a vehicle. My sister remembers my mother going to church in a cab when they lived out on Boyd Mill Pike. My sister and brother would tell me stories about a lot of things that I didn’t really think about, didn’t appreciate in my mother and father. They sharecropped, and they worked all of their lives. They lived in a three-room house, six of them.
I grew up on Cummins Street. My brothers would find Civil War bullets and take them up to the Carter House and sell them.
I remember my grandmother lived on Ninth Avenue, and Dr. Harry Guffee would come to her house and make home visits. I would go with my grandmother downtown on weekends and shop at Stevens grocery store. Those are fond memories.
FHP: Why is service to community important?
AM: When my kids were in grade school, I was always involved with their education as a parent. And then when they were in high school I was involved in PTO and that started the volunteer efforts.
I’ve been involved with several organizations.
It’s very, very important to serve in the community. If you want to make a difference, you need to have a voice and you need to be willing to put that effort in. if you have ideas and you have things you want to share and you want to make a difference, you need to use your blood, sweat and tears and get out there and [serve]. You know, we can easily sit back and say they should do this and they should do that. Well, who’s they? Just look in the mirror.
FHP: You’ve been involved with the Community Housing Partnership for several years. How are Franklin and Williamson County doing on the issue of affordable housing?
AM: We saw there was a need for affordable homes. It was really getting out of reach, and that was like 30 years ago. We haven’t made a lot of strides. We’re going in the opposite direction. It’s been very, very hard, so there’s a lot of people out there who have tried so hard. But it’s really a paradox. It’s a really difficult thing in this community because of land cost.
We have a lot of wonderful people who are working together. I feel like relations here are very good, and we’re trying to work together to make things happen. But [affordable housing] has been a big, big challenge. We just haven’t been able to do a whole lot. That is my biggest concern. Traffic is an issue, but I can live with that. But a home? That’s a quality of life issue. If you don’t have a place to live, that’s a totally different thing than sitting in traffic.
The Hill (a section of city property on Fifth Avenue North where plans are in place for construction of affordable homes) will be more affordable than anything else that we have. I feel certain that’s a great project that’s going to be more affordable than anything we’ll have in the next several years. That will be at least some opportunity for more affordability.
FHP: Is the McLemore House getting the attention that’s needed?
AM: It’s a treasure that’s part of the full story. You’ve got Carnton, you’ve got the Carter House, and then you’ve got the home built by a slave that was freed because of the results of the Civil War. All of that is a trilogy that should be shared with the community.
We close down for the winter, because it’s a slow time. The Battle of Franklin Trust has been very, very gracious and helpful to us. They send tour guides over. Two years ago we opened the McLemore House for regular hours, and we had volunteers. When you open on regular hours, you have to make sure people are there and sometimes when you do things on a volunteer basis, it’s kind of hard. So the Battle of Franklin Trust sent their tour guides over and they are amazing. They know the history and they are passionate. They feel so strongly about the mission. Eric Jacobson (CEO of the BOFT) got with his board of directors and said we want to assist in this effort.
We’ll open back up in March and there will be tour guides beginning in March and running through November.
FHP: Do you think young people of all backgrounds are becoming more aware of their community and more involved? Why or why not?
AM: Honestly, I don’t think so. I don’t see a lot of interest. The kids have projects they have to do because it’s required. But as far as the natural instinctive thing for learning and having a thirst for it, I don’t see it. It’s probably the adults’ faults, because I don’t remember sharing much with my kids.
That’s unfortunate. That’s where we have to really sit down and think about what we’re doing. Because when you know where you came from — your parents and your grandparents and those stories that get passed down — that’s a wonderful feeling.
We’re hoping to work with Williamson County Schools and Franklin Special School District to have at least a tour [of McLemore House] for certain grades.