As communities across the nation confront issues related to racial inequality and injustice, the city of Franklin is working to find a way forward by ensuring that all aspects of the city’s history are told and that all members of the community are represented.
In recognition of the city of Franklin’s efforts to bring together community members to ensure the history of the city and its citizens are told in full, the Tennessee Municipal League (TML) is pleased to present Franklin with an award for Excellence in Historic Preservation. The award was presented Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021, at the 81st Annual Conference of the Tennessee Municipal League held at the Chattanooga Convention Center.
In the aftermath of the Charlottesville, Va. tragedy, Franklin leaders initiated discussions about Franklin’s history and more specifically, the Confederate statue on Franklin’s square. The monument was erected in 1899 to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the Battle of Franklin, which resulted in 10,000 casualties within the town of roughly 900 people. However, many community leaders felt the statue was only telling one part of the Battle of Franklin’s story.
Three local pastors, the city battlefield historian, City Administrator Eric Stuckey, and Mayor Ken Moore presented to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen the concept of the Fuller Story Initiative, a project that would include the stories of the African-American experience before, during and after the Battle of Franklin in addition to the story already being told on the square.
While the Board of Mayor and Aldermen initially approved the project, the city was met with backlash and legal threats from some. However, city officials chose to move ahead and soon found more members of the community coming forward with support for the project.
Beginning in 2019, the city unveiled five markers near the Confederate monument at the square that detail the African-American experience in Franklin during the time period, including stories of how slaves were once bought and sold on the old courthouse square, the Battle of Franklin, the service of the U.S. Colored Troops, the 1867 race riot that occurred in the city, and how Reconstruction impacted Franklin.
A statue honoring the roughly 180,000 black men who served in the U.S. Army and Navy as part of the U.S. Colored Troops – including 300 from Williamson County – will also be erected in downtown Franklin. The statue is one of few in the nation that honors the sacrifice of men, born slaves, who fought not only for their own freedom but to defend the United States and the freedom of others. The statue is the result of work by the city with the Battle of Franklin Trust and the Equity and Justice Coalition.
Additionally, the city has renamed two streets after prominent African-Americans from the community. One was named for civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. while a second was named for Allen Nelson Crutcher Williams, who rose from slavery to open the first African-American-owned business in downtown Franklin in 1863 and contributed significantly to the development of the city’s Natchez Street neighborhood.
The story of how Franklin is reconciling with its past and finding a way to move forward through honoring all parts of its history has received national and international media attention and also inspired other community groups to do the same. In June, the African-American Heritage Society dedicated a marker at Pinkerton Park to honor Union Army General Gordon Granger, the leader of the Union troops who were once stationed in and around Fort Granger at Pinkerton Park. Two years later, Granger would be instrumental in the creation of the Juneteenth holiday.
The work of the Fuller Story Initiative led to Franklin winning the All-American City Award by the National Civic League as a showcase of how citizens from all walks of life can come together with government and community leaders to deal with the uncomfortable truths of the past and find a way forward as a community.
Each year the Tennessee Municipal League honors cities throughout the state for overall excellence, improvement, specific outstanding programs, or department accomplishments. Other award winners for 2021 include the city of Chattanooga for Excellence in Green Leadership; the city of Cleveland for Excellence in Police Services; the town of Dandridge for Small Town Progress; the city of Elizabethton for Excellence in Governance; the city of Fayetteville for Excellence in Community Planning and Development; the city of Hohenwald for Excellence in Fire Service; the city of Johnson City for Excellence in Public Relations; the city of Kingston for Small City Progress; the city of Mt. Pleasant for Excellence in Strategic Planning; the city of Paris for Excellence in Parks and Recreation; and the city of Rocky Top for Excellence in Finance.