Local pastors and a historian have advocated for putting historical makers in the Franklin town square where the Confederate statue known as “Chip” currently stands. // File photo
By JOHN McBRYDE
For Franklin Community Church Pastor Kevin Riggs and others who have been involved in what is known as the “fuller story” project, now is the time to hurry up and wait.
Though it’s been several months since the Franklin Board of Mayor Aldermen voted to approve the placement of historical markers on the Franklin town square that would tell more of the city’s role in the Civil War, Riggs said the project is continuing to move forward despite the holdup caused by the issue’s having gone to court. Before the Franklin board had endorsed the placement of the four markers — three plaques would include information on slavery and a fourth would explain the history behind the Confederate statue known as “Chip” that stands on the square — an attorney for the Franklin Chapter 14 of the United Daughters of the Confederacy threatened legal action should the markers be placed on land he insisted belongs to the UDC.
Doug Jones met with preservationists later, but the Nashville attorney refused to budge on the issue, citing an old court decree stating the UDC owns the square of land where the markers would be placed. As a result, the city of Franklin sued the UDC Chapter 14 in Williamson County Chancery Court seeking clarity on the ownership issue.
That was filed last Aug. 28, and the matter remains unsettled. “There is nothing new to say,” a spokesperson for the city of Franklin said in an email. “Nothing has been scheduled with the Court.”
The judicial stalemate notwithstanding, Riggs said the project continues to gain momentum.
“The wording for the markers is really close to being done,” he recently said. “The money has already been raised to pay for the markers. … We feel confident that the wording has gone through appropriate vetting and the wording will be reflective of the bigger picture of what we’re trying to do.
“Once the wording is finalized, hopefully in the next month or, the markers will be fabricated and then we’ll store them until the court rules on the ownership of the land. Once the issue of ownership is settled, we’ve been told by the city it won’t take long to put the markers up.”
Riggs had joined with two other pastors in Franklin — Hewitt Sawyers of West Harpeth Primitive Baptist Church and Chris Williamson of Strong Tower Baptist Church — and Battle of Franklin Trust CEO Eric Jacobson to present the idea of the fuller story and the placement of the markers as well as a statue of a United States Colored Troops soldier. The group plans to present an update and tell a little more about the project during the scheduled service and ceremony on the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday on Monday.
“I think MLK Day is going to be extremely important and historical for our city,” Riggs said. “The goal is simply to get people excited about what we’re doing and to bring everyone up to date on what our vision is and where we see the statue and the markers going.”
The markers will tell the stories of a former slave market on the square, a race riot, the era of Reconstruction and, in a revision from the original plan, the Confederate statue currently standing on the square.
“I hope people see it as a goodwill gesture that we’re going to pay for another marker,” Riggs said, “and this marker is going to talk about the historical aspect of the monument. We’re not trying to tear anything down. Chip’s not going anywhere. Most people see the monument and don’t think a whole lot about it, and so a marker that explains when it was put up, and how the Daughters of the Confederacy raised money to put it up, will help tell the whole story.”
Money is still being raised to have the USCT statue sculpted, and it will also include a marker that will stand beside it. Riggs said the statue will be placed somewhere in the downtown Franklin area and not on the center square where the other markers are proposed to stand.
Support for the plan has been overwhelming, Riggs said, and many in the community believe the gesture is well overdue.
“People have been talking about telling the complete story for years,” said Alma McLemore, lifelong resident of Franklin and president of the African American Heritage Society of Williamson County. “It does need to be a part of the history in downtown Franklin. Because when people come here from out of town to visit, they need to see and hear more than just the Confederate statue because that references just one thing.
“So I personally feel like if we can share other stories and we can contribute some of the success and also some of the things these slaves had to endure, it would make a more complete story instead of just one statue right in the center of downtown Franklin.”
MLK Day ceremonies will include a service at Franklin’s First Missionary Baptist Church at 11 a.m., with a march to follow from the church to the Williamson County Courthouse in downtown Franklin.