In the center of downtown Franklin, a Confederate soldier statue stands on top of a 37-foot monument in the Public Square. The statue was erected on November 30, 1899, the 35th anniversary of the Battle of Franklin, to commemorate soldiers who fought and died for the Confederacy. The statue was nicknamed “Chip” when a piece of the soldier’s hat broke off during installation.
In response to the shootings of nine African Americans at the Emmanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015, and the violence experienced during the protests over the removal of the Confederate statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, a group of about 80 people formed in the center of Franklin’s Public Square on August 14, 2017. Concerned citizens did not want events that happened in Charleston and Charlottesville to happen in Franklin. Pastor Kevin Riggs of Franklin Community Church, Pastor Chris Williamson of Strong Tower Bible Church, and Eric Jacobson, historian and CEO of the Battle of Franklin, attended the event. During the prayer vigil, Pastor Riggs called for the removal and relocation of the confederate statue “Chip”. As a result, Mr. Riggs received several threats, including some death threats.
Shortly after the prayer vigil, historian Eric Jacobson contacted Pastor Riggs, Pastor Williamson, and Pastor Hewett Sawyers of West Harpeth Primitive Baptist Church. The group began discussing how to address concerns about the Confederate statue in Franklin’s Public Square. As a result of the discussions, the Fuller Story project was born.
The group had several discussions with the City about how to help prevent incidents that happened in Charleston and Charlottesville from happening in Franklin. They also wanted to find out what legal steps would be necessary to remove and relocate the statue. However, after discussions, the group realized it would be almost impossible to remove the statue legally and instead decided to erect markers and a statue of a United States Colored Troops Soldier that would represent the African American experience before, during, and after the Civil War. The City was very supportive of the plan, and on August 14, 2018, the project was presented to and unanimously approved by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
The project was privately funded through donations.
The five markers were unveiled in Franklin’s Public Square on October 17, 2019.
- The Franklin Town Square marker provides a description of a courthouse constructed in 1809 and a “market house” near the courthouse. For more than half a century, human beings were bought and sold at the market house. The Franklin Weekly Review advertised the sale of slaves and families were often ripped apart when members were sold separately. The courthouse was demolished in 1855 to build the courthouse which stands today on the south side of the square. Soon after, the “market house” was torn down, but slaves continued to be bought and sold on the new courthouse steps.
- The United States Colored Troops marker describes the time following the emancipation proclamation. During that time, the U.S. War Department created the Bureau of Colored Troops on May 22, 1863. The Union set up an office downstairs in the Franklin courthouse. Men would go in as slaves and enlist in the army to fight for the Union. Around 200,000 African American soldiers enlisted in the segregated U.S. Army under white officers and served in all branches. More than 2,700 died in combat. At least 300 Williamson County men enlisted in the army, and perhaps some soldiers participated in the Battle of Nashville on December 15-16 in 1864.
- The next marker describes the Battle of Franklin, which took place on November 30, 1864. There were over 10,000 casualties (7,500 of which were Confederate soldiers).
- The Franklin Riot of 1867 marker describes a race riot that took place after political speeches at the Franklin Square on July 6, 1867. Members of the Colored League (African American Republicans) fought with members of a group called the Conservatives (a group supporting amnesty for Confederates following the Civil War). As the League passed the Conservatives, a white Conservative fired two shots at the Colored Leaguers, who returned fire. One white Conservative was killed, and several whites and blacks were injured.
- The Reconstruction marker provides a summary of the reconstruction period after the Civil War. The marker details stories of former Franklin slaves who became respected community members and represents the contributions of the freed slaves in the Franklin community. It also describes the impacts of the reconstruction period throughout the South and in both state and federal governments.
To complete the “Fuller Story Project”, a United States Colored Troop Statue will be erected. According to the Battle of Franklin Trust, there are plans to have the statue erected by the close of 2021. The statue will be erected next to the United States Colored Troop marker in front of the historic courthouse.
Historian Eric Jacobson said, “The Confederate Monument has dominated Franklin’s public square. We wanted to confront history and balance it with African American history. We also wanted to empower and represent all people.”
Franklin Mayor Ken Moore said that Franklin’s “Fuller Story” tells “much more than a commemorative statue in the center of our square. Envisioned by three pastors and a historian in conjunction with the City, plaques chronicle the story of the African American experience before, during, and after the Civil War. The plaques tell of the sale of humans on our square, lynchings, and slaves becoming free. The intention was to unite all people around our history rather than divide our community. The story also helps us not to make the same mistakes again.”
When asked what advice the City had to other communities, Eric Stuckey, City Administrator for Franklin said, “The pastors did a wonderful job engaging the community in the conversation. The mayor, board, leadership, and community all approached this project with an open heart. The pastors showed grace, but they also showed grit. They engaged the community and showed determination for completing the project.” Mr. Stuckey continued, “Engage people in the conversation. Find your community’s story, make sure you listen to a broad audience and then honor it. We honor history by telling more of its story, even stories we might not particularly like because they tell us about who we are, how we got here, and what can be learned going forward.”
Video interviews with Pastors Riggs, Williamson, and Sawyers were recorded earlier this year and can be watched below. The United States Colored Troop statue was originally scheduled to be erected on Juneteenth.
For more information about the Fuller Story Project, click here.