Franklin group to mark Juneteenth with first-time public ceremony

    Members of the Franklin Justice & Equity Coalition at a 2020 event. (Photo: FJEC Facebook)
    Members of the Franklin Justice & Equity Coalition at a 2020 event. (Photo: FJEC Facebook)

    The Franklin Justice & Equity Coalition (FJEC) and the Fuller Story announced their plans Tuesday to commemorate Juneteenth with a ceremony and a bronze statue of a U.S. Colored Troops soldier in front of Franklin’s Historic Courthouse.

    In collaboration with the Civil War Commission and the Battle of Franklin Trust, the group will hold a festival in downtown Franklin June 18-19 to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States and the unveiling of the statue.

    “Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the U.S. and we’re honored to bring this celebration to life in Franklin,” said Walter Simmons, founder of the FJEC and pastor at Franklin Community Church. 

    The Fuller Story project was created after a series of violent protests sparked by the 2015 killing of nine Black parishioners in Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Protesters and counter-protesters clashed around Confederate monuments as the nation debated where the icons stood in U.S. history. 

    After a 2017 rally in Charlottesville, Virginia ended with a car running over protesters and killing one, Franklin  community leaders and pastors rallied support to erect historic markers around the public square to combat nationwide violence centered on removing Confederate monuments. 

    Through the Fuller Story Project, community leaders sought to install five markers detailing Black history but encountered resistance from the United Daughters of the Confederacy, who claimed to own the public square.

    The group erected a statue of a generic Confederate soldier in 1899 and had threatened to sue the city if any markers were placed in the public square.  In response, the city filed a judgement suit in 2019  to decide who owns the land. In 2020, the Franklin Board of Mayor and Alderman approved a settlement agreement that the United Daughters of the Confederacy owned the statue but the rest of the square belonged to the city. 

    Franklin alderman agreed in 2019 on placing two Black history markers near the Confederate statue while three other markers would go on the public square near the historic courthouse.

    The deaths of several Black Americans, including Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, led to the creation of the FJEC in 2020, who then joined the effort to  create a complete picture of Franklin’s complex history with the Civil War and enslaved people.

    Chris Williamson, pastor, Strong Tower Bible Church (Photo: Facebook)
    Chris Williamson, pastor, Strong Tower Bible Church (Photo: Facebook)

    Community leaders decided that in order to balance out how the South had originally portrayed its history, they needed to “focus on what we can put up instead of what we can take down,” said Chris Williamson, a pastor at Strong Tower Bible Church and a founding member of the Fuller Story.

    Since moving to Franklin in the ‘90s, Williamson found that Franklin residents often had little knowledge of slave markets and “wanted to have an Antebellum innocence where they didn’t have to deal with the horror of human trafficking,”  said Williamson.

    The statue is the final phase of the project, said Williamson, and it will stand in front of the historic courthouse to represent the site at which freed and escaped Black people signed paperwork to enlist in the Union Army.

    History is being made, said Williamson, since few Southern cities have erected historical markers for Black history, and it’s also important to note that this will be the first time several blocks in downtown Franklin will be closed off for a Black history event.  

    “There were even times that they closed for Confederate celebrations, but there was never, to our knowledge, a city shut down for the Junteenth. This will be the first year,” he said.

    The Juneteenth Festival will run from Friday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The statue will be unveiled on Saturday at 10 a.m. and tickets will be sold to attend the Juneteenth Gala and Awards Ceremony on Friday at 6 p.m.