Franklin residents push for markers telling 'fuller story' near Confederate monument
Lifelong Franklin resident Angela Gentry said she remembered a time when people of color didn't visit Main Street or the public square.
"There was never anything verbally said. It was just an unspoken rule," Gentry said. "Black people didn't come here. It wasn't our thing. We just didn't do it. I can't even tell you the reasoning behind it, just aside from the history. There were times there were reasons to stay out of downtown Franklin. So that behavior has been learned."
Gentry thought there would be unwavering support for four new markers proposed for Franklin's downtown square. Faith leaders and historians approached the city of Franklin about the project at the end of August. The project — called A Fuller Story — would aim to discuss African American history in Williamson County.
The project recently hit a snag, after the Daughters of the Confederacy threatened to sue the city if anything new were erected on the public square. A lawyer for the group argued the Daughters of the Confederacy owned not only the monument, but the entire public square. In return, the city filed suit in Williamson County Chancery Court for a judge to determine who owns the land.
"It only makes sense to have the full story," Gentry said. "So why not give more? Right now, only half of the story is told. We should want to tell a more inclusive story. When I found out there was opposition, it shocked me. If there's verbal opposition, there needs to be verbal support."
The city's argument
In its filing in Williamson County Chancery Court in late August, the city argued that the Daughters of the Confederacy no longer exists.
"The defendant, Franklin Chapter No. 14 United Daughters of the Confederacy, was organized on Sept. 6, 1989, but was dissolved and terminated on Jan. 8, 1990. It is not a recognized legal corporation."
The city also argued in its filing that public square was drawn out on a map in 1878. No monument is pictured in the map. The moment was later installed in 1899, when it was paid for by the Daughters of the Confederacy.
While the city argued it the Daughters of the Confederacy wasn't an organization, it also attached its contract with the group to maintain the monument. The contract comes from 2010.
What happens next
Franklin's Board of Mayor and Aldermen will consider its support for the markers near the monument at its Sept. 25 meeting.
Aldermen deferred the issue at the beginning of the month, wanting members from the Daughters of the Confederacy and those wanting markers to reconcile any differences.
The Daughters of the Confederacy's lawyer, Douglas Jones, said the group only wants markers related to the Battle of Franklin. He said markers regarding other topics could go elsewhere.
No markers will go on the square until a judge rules who owns the square. But some Franklin residents said this was the time to show support for the project.
A petition of support was started on change.org, and nearly 500 people have signed it. Residents have also come before Franklin aldermen at public meetings to voice their opinions.
"It’s your history. It’s my history," Franklin resident Tabitha Sanders said. "We have a chance to get it right this time, and tell the good, bad and the ugly. I just think it’s a win-win for everyone — for our city, our state, our ancestors. They can say, 'This city, they got it.'"
About the markers
The group wants four markers on the square to depict African-American history in Williamson County.
Markers would discuss the courthouse and market house, the United States Colored Troops, the 1867 downtown riot and Reconstruction through the Jim Crow era.
Faith and historical leaders also would like to add a statue recognizing the U.S. Colored Troops from Williamson County who served in the Civil War. A location for that statue hasn't been identified.
The group wants to have the markers up by 2019 and unveil them on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Reach Emily West at email@example.com or 615-613-1380 and on Twitter at @emwest22.