Franklin aldermen vote to slow effort to add African American history markers on the Public Square

Franklin aldermen vote to slow effort to add African American history markers on the Public Square

After a lawyer for the United Daughters of the Confederacy asked that the group have a say in the placement of historical markers around the Public Square, Franklin aldermen voted to defer a resolution in favor of adding markers referencing slavery and segregation.

Attorney Doug Jones, representing United Daughters Chapter 14, said members of the group that erected a statue of a Confederate soldier on the square in 1899 own and will protect the site where the statue stands, but are willing to work with the churchmen who proposed the “Fuller Story” markers. He was pleased with the one-month delay approved 5-3 by the aldermen.

The “Fuller Story” proposal involves placing four historical markers on Franklin’s Public Square, to be dedicated on Jan. 14, 2019, during the annual Martin Luther King celebration when people paying tribute to King walk from First Missionary Baptist Church to the Public Square.

The historical markers would identify the location of the Market House on the square, where slaves were among the goods sold and traded; tell the story of about 300 Williamson County residents who served in the U.S. Colored Troops units of the Union Army; describe a race riot on July 6, 1867; and discuss reconstruction and Jim Crow segregation’s manifestations in Franklin.

In addition, the plan calls for the placement of a statue of a U.S. Colored Troops soldier somewhere within the city limits of Franklin.

united daughters of the confederacy
Pastor Kevin Riggs, left, a supporter of “A Fuller Story,” talks to United Daughter of the Confederacy attorney Doug Jones outside the Franklin board room. // KELLY GILFILLAN

The Board chambers were almost full, mostly with supporters of the Fuller Story effort.

“We were a little disappointed tonight,” said Pastor Hewitt Sawyers, one of the authors of the project. “But you play the cards you are dealt.”

Dr. Chris Williamson, another project backer, was less optimistic.

“They do not agree with what we are saying, they don’t agree with where we are trying to say it from,” he said. “I’m not sure what a month is going to do.”

Aldermen were largely in support of the project when it was described at a meeting two weeks ago.

But after Jones, who successfully sued Vanderbilt University for renaming Confederate Memorial Hall on campus, asked to be included in the process for changes to Franklin square, a number of aldermen were swayed.

Alderman Brandi Blanton made the first motion to defer the resolution for two weeks, saying that she still favors the project.

“I think it is in the spirit of consensus,” Blanton said.

Alderman Margaret Martin then moved to defer the matter for four weeks instead.

“I think we want this done right, and we owe it to the people who are interested,” Martin said. “We all want to be proud of this.”

Alderman Bev Burger said she also wanted more input.

“I have a number of questions about the information on the markers,” Burger said.

Alderman Dana McLendon voted against both the two-week deferral and the four-week deferral, insisting that the resolution did not specify a particular location for the markers, nor dictate their text.

“The resolution says we’re merely going to do it,” he said. “We should do it.

“I think we should not waver from the commitment we made two weeks ago.”

Kevin Riggs, another one of the clergymen in favor of “A Fuller Story,” remained optimistic.

“We were hoping it wouldn’t get deferred,” Riggs said. “Ultimately the city has to make their decision. It’ll happen. It’s just a delay.”

Battle of Franklin Trust CEO Eric Jacobson said the delay should be put to good use.

“We need to finish this in 30 days because it is the right thing to do and it is long overdue.”

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