Descendants, community come together to unveil monument honoring the enslaved at Carnton

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A monument marker was unveiled Saturday during a ceremony to remember and honor the enslaved who were buried in the McGavock Cemetery at Carton.

Franklin’s Charge led the effort to install a 10,000-pound memorial marker to give “equal importance” to the enslaved buried in the cemetery.

Small field rocks indicating where the enslaved were buried blended into the ground and could have previously been overlooked by cemetery visitors. Robert Hicks, president of Franklin’s Charge, explained his hope is that visitors will stop to honor those buried there, and the memorial marker helps bring attention to those enslaved men, women and children.

“We’re not only remembering these souls buried here, but the souls of countless men, women and children buried in countless, often lost and forgotten, enslaved cemeteries throughout this county and beyond. This is their memorial, too,” Hicks wrote in the program flyer.

Inscribed on the front of the monument are the words, “known to God here rest the mortal remains of men, women, and children of Africa. Enslaved in life. Freed in death.” The back reads, “their souls rise up to greet a new morning.”

Hundreds attended the ceremony, including city and state representatives and Gov. Bill Lee.

Local African American pastors and a community choir led the ceremony in prayer and song. 

Chairman of the Monument Committee Lamont Turner explained Saturday’s ceremony was all about remembrance. 

“The memorial marker to be unveiled today is being done so to honor and remember the men, women and children of Africa, who were enslaved here at Carnton,” he said. “Today, in 2019, Carnton and the community of Franklin agree that it’s time to tell the whole story.”

For the family of Brad Perry, a ninth generation Williamson County resident, the ceremony was about reconciling the past. Part of his family’s ancestral history includes owning 256 slaves dating back to 1838.

“The United States was wrong, Tennessee was wrong, Williamson County was wrong, Franklin was wrong, my family was wrong,” he said. “I’ve repented for my family’s sins and the benefit and privilege that my skin color has given me in my lifetime. It’s appropriate to mourn our communities’ past as we stand in this cemetery.”

Perry is a local educator who currently teaches African American history, and he too believes it is important to tell the truth and recognize all aspects of history.

“I believe history is about telling the truth about our past,” he said. “Our monuments and statues need to aid in telling that story. Telling those truths.”

For local assistant principal Dr. Reggie Mason and daughter Brianna, who are some of the living descendants of those buried at Carnton, they spoke of the blessings life has brought them and credited their ancestors for paving the way.

“I’m always eager to learn more about where I came from and who came before me and paved the way for me and my siblings to have the kind of opportunities that we do,” Brianna Mason said. 

One of the opportunities Brianna Mason was able to achieve was becoming the first African American woman to win Miss Tennessee earlier this year. She gives all the credit to those who came before her. 

“They were so strong and so resilient and truly beat the odds,” she said. “I’m so glad that I’ve been able to make them proud. I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams.”

When Reggie Mason learned more about his ancestry about a decade ago, he toured Carnton to get a better sense of his roots, including the former slave quarters.

“It was eerie to think that someone in my family was enslaved back there, worked and lived there,” he said. “It was also kind of satisfying, because me standing there as a free man and a somewhat productive citizen in this community kind of made me think that I made them proud.”

Knowing his ancestors were listening, Reggie Mason said he just wanted to thank them for everything they had done and all the family blessings it led to. 

“To my ancestors that are buried here, thank you, thank you for your strength, perseverance and thank you for building the foundation for us to live and dream.”

Donations can be made to the McGavock Cemetery Enslaved Memorial Fund here at https://franklinscharge.org/support or by mail. Specify as a memorial marker donation with either payment method.

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