Franklin pastors propose historic markers detailing slave auctions, African-American Civil War efforts

Franklin pastors propose historic markers detailing slave auctions, African-American Civil War efforts

PHOTO: From left, Pastor Kevin Riggs, Pastor Hewitt Sawyers, Battle of Franklin Trust CEO Eric Jacobson, Dr. Chris Williamson after presenting a proposal about historic markers to the Franklin Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Tuesday, August 14, 2018./Brooke Wanser


During a packed work session at City Hall on Tuesday night, a group of local pastors laid out their plans to construct historical markers to the lesser told side of the Civil War in Franklin.

Pastor Kevin Riggs of Franklin Community Church noted the recent one-year anniversary of the Unite the Right rally and deaths in Charlottesville.

“We’re a lot like Charlottesville in a lot of ways,” he said. If anything like that ever did happen in Franklin, “Pastors would be the first in the city to come together.”

“Instead of waiting for something bad to happen, could we do something positive and not let that happen,” Riggs continued.

The pastors suggested four historical markers around the square to “help tell a fuller story of the Civil War.”

  1. Williamson County Courthouse and slave market: As was recently detailed by author Bill Carey in his book, “Runaways, Coffles and Fancy Girls: A History of Slavery in Tennessee,” next to the old county courthouse was the site of a slave market. James F. Carter, the son of Fountain Branch Carter, purchased slaves at the market, according to the text from the proposed historic marker.
  2. Franklin Riot of 1867: One white conservative was killed and several other conservatives injured, while 27 members of the Colored League (African-American Republicans) were injured during a clash after the Civil War on town square.
  3. Reconstruction and Jim Crow Era: This marker would be a general description of fraught tensions in the post-Civil War period, including Supreme Court cases Plessy v. Ferguson and black voter suppression.
  4. Statue: A statue of a United States Colored Troops soldier will complete the four-pronged approach. USCT soldiers fought in the Battle of Nashville, with some buried in Franklin.

The goal is to unveil the three markers on Martin Luther King Day 2019, and the statue on the same day in 2020, with approval of the board. The markers would be placed on town square, while the statue location has yet to be determined.

Last year, after a peaceful solidarity rally in reaction to the events at Charlottesville, Riggs called for the removal of the Confederate statue on town square.

Chip, as seen at the 2017 Kiwanis Christmas Parade./Brooke Wanser

Now, Riggs has come to a different solution. “Instead of being divisive and trying to take things down, why can’t we put some things up to tell a side of the story that hasn’t been told before?” he asked.

Pastor Hewitt Sawyers of West Harpeth Primitive Baptist Church quoted 1 Peter 5:8 in warning against forces that would seek to divide the community.

“Be alert and have a sober mind, your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour,’” he said. “Quite frankly, we don’t want that to happen in Franklin.”

And Dr. Chris Williamson, pastor of Strong Tower Bible Church, said the city has an opportunity to cross racial lines and embrace unity.

“I believe we have an opportunity that is before all of us to be the leaders that we’ve been called to be in this community,” he said, and to tell a fuller story. “We’re not here to take away from anything or to take anything down. Rather, we are here to add to the story portions of our history that are unknown and often untold.”

Eric Jacobson, the Battle of Franklin Trust CEO and a Civil War historian, said he fully supports the effort of the pastors.

After getting to know the men, Jacobson said he has begun to believe, “Healing begins when we talk to each other and not just at each other.”

“I think these four markers tell the story that is inextricably linked to the war, why there was a war, and why we struggled for nearly a century after it with so many issues and why we still struggled with things today,” he said.

“They’re straightforward, they’re to the point, they do not assess blame, they are simply a statement of fact,” Jacobson continued.

Aldermen spoke out overwhelmingly in support of the proposal.

“As an individual, I will be supporting this to teach all our visitors and all our students,” said Alderman Pearl Bransford. “This is a great opportunity for educating not only myself but all of us here in our city.”

“Amen!” said Ward 1 Alderman Bev Burger, who said it was important to tell the whole story, “the good, the bad, and the ugly.”

But, “Franklin is not Charlottesville,” Burger, who previously lived in Charlottesville, said.

“It is a very smart place, we have a lot of things in common with Charlottesville, but we are not Charlottesville,” she added. “I can’t ever think that we would ever allow something like that to happen here.”

“Let’s get it up whenever we want,” Ward 2 Alderman Dana McLendon said.

Of the new statue, “I’m hopeful we can find a location that’s of equivalent rank [to Chip, on town square], if you will. I wouldn’t want to do something lesser than. We need to look for a way to do something that is of equivalent nobility.”

McLendon also suggested a marker to the several hundred fallen US Colored Troops.

“We inherited Chip, my generation, and you accept things, that’s just the way they are,” said Alderman Brandy Blanton. “But how great to be able to give a different ear to the people that come on behind us, and show how thoughtful we were.”

About The Author

Kelly Gilfillan is the owner-publisher of Home Page Media Group which has been publishing hyperlocal news since 2009.

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