The African American Heritage Society released a statement July 14 calling for the addition of a marker in front of Chip, the Confederate monument in Franklin’s Public Square, to explain the historical context of the statue.
“We hold that rather than subtracting monuments, Franklin should add to the stories and memories that Williamson County shares and elevates,” the statement reads. “This measure would be a start toward making Williamson County’s history complete. It is time that we told the whole story.”
According to Tina Jones, a historian with the AAHS who notably worked to bring the history of Williamson County’s U.S. Colored Troop soldiers to light, said though the exact motivation of the United Daughters of the Confederacy was unclear in 1899 by erecting the monument, the historical context can provide greater insight into the intentions behind the statue and what it was meant to represent.
“To a certain extent, these were daughters of veterans and granddaughters and wives of veterans, but I also think that you really have to realize that they were also on a mission to rewrite history,” Jones said. “And I think, in a way, the monument is a giant fish tale, and by that I mean a lie, in the middle of town pretending that everybody in Williamson County were Confederate soldiers.”
Jones said that at the time of the monument’s erection, hundreds of U.S. Colored Troop veterans who fought in the war were likely still living in the area and were targeted by the Ku Klux Klan, and the monument itself was likely more than just a symbol to commemorate Confederate soldiers from the area.
“What [the U.S. Colored Troops] risked for them and their families by stepping out there and joining and fighting made themselves targets of the clan—and I don’t say that lightly, I mean there’s testimony and commissions that look at what the clan was doing, and they specifically targeted these former Black soldiers,” Jones said. “By putting that monument up, they were being told, ‘Your story is not important. Your service is not important. You’re not important.’ The monuments that people put up tell them who you celebrate and tells you who you honor, so to a certain extent we do know who they honored and who they celebrated at the time, and it was not the Black soldiers.”
Alma McLemore, a longtime Franklin resident and the president of the AAHS, said she draws issue with the wording inscribed on the statue’s base, which in part reads: “No country ever had truer sons, no cause nobler champions, no people bolder defenders than the brave soldiers to whose memory this stone is erected.”
“It wasn’t even a noble cause,” McLemore said. “If you asked what they thought at the time when they erected that, when they [call their cause noble], that means that they didn’t care, and they were fighting to maintain slavery. ... I understand fully why so many people want to have it removed, but I don’t think it’s going to go away.”
McLemore said the addition of a historical marker would send a message to visitors and residents that what the statue celebrates is not representative of Franklin or Williamson County today.