The darkening skies and rumbling thunder on Tuesday afternoon didn’t stop the Franklin Housing Authority from celebrating the grand opening of the Reddick Apartments located along Granbury, Reddick, Battlefield and Strahl streets.
The celebration also recognized the complex’s namesake, John Watt Reddick, the son of former slaves Mariah Bell McGavock Otey Reddick and Bolen Reddick, who became a leader in the community.
Several years ago the 50-year-old site had a 50-year-old sewer system and 44 buildings in very poor condition. Tuesday the Franklin Housing Authority proudly presented a community of 113 modern, new affordable homes for low to moderate-income residents that were a result of partnerships between the FHA, city, county, state and federal agencies and private companies.
“This is a really great day,” said Milton Pratt, vice president of Michaels Development Co. “It’s all about the families that will live here. It’s about the partnerships that made it happen for the people who will be living here.”
Among the dignitaries and members of the community on hand to celebrate the grand opening were descendents of John W. Reddick who traveled from Chicago, Massachusetts and the Republic of Panama to be a part of the festivities.
According to Derwin Jackson, FHA executive director, what made the project and the day really special was the opportunity to meet descendents of John Watt Reddick and learning the family’s history.
“This is pretty impressive,” said Damani Keene, the great grandson of Mariah and Bolen Reddick. He came from the Republic of Panama to be a part of the festivities. “The history leading to today starts in the 1800s. Mariah was born in Mississippi. Her family was sold in servitude and sent to Louisiana. At the age of 12 or 13 Mariah was given to Carrie McGavock as a wedding gift.”
As the Union troops moved into Franklin the McGavocks sent Mariah to Montgomery, Ala., to work in Jefferson Davis’ house. She also worked in the local hospital, Keene said. That was where she met John Reddick, who became her second husband after her first husband, Harvey Otey, died.
John W. Reddick was born on Sept. 2, 1880. He had one son – Luther – and three daughters – Thelma Louise Keene, Ellen Reddick and Marie James. Marie married Porter James Sr., whose son, 83-year old Porter James Jr., is the only living descendent who actually knew his grandfather, whom he called “Papa.”
“I was 6-years-old when Papa passed [in 1941],” James said during a mini family reunion at the Williamson County Archives & Museum. “I actually knew Papa Reddick – I was born in his house on 419 Reddick St.”
Porter James Jr. poured over lot plats from the 1930s provided by County Archivist Aimee Saunders. When he found his grandfather’s house, which is no longer, and the house of Dr. Charles Johnson, who lived across the street and delivered James, tears came to his eyes and the stories of Papa began to flow.
“As a 2- or 3-year-old, I didn’t have a toy car so I used a toy roller skate,” he said. “I made roads in a dirt-filled planter on the front porch made from a half of a steel hot water heater.”
During a class reunion 11 years ago at Fisk University, James returned to his birthplace. He found a KFC parking lot next door, the house collapsing and the water heater planter.
“Papa was also a veteran in the Spanish American War,” James said. “He had marksman medals. All the local hunters liked to hunt with him. Papa didn’t have an education but he knew the value of an education.”
Reddick was a member of the Mosaic Templars, an organization founded in the late 19th century by African Americans to provide insurance for sickness, death and burial expenses during a time when few basic services were available to black people. He was also a big proponent of education for African American children.
When James was born, Reddick was a yard worker for a Franklin lawyer who saw the man’s pride for his first grandchild. The lawyer drew up papers that ended up changing the direction of the Reddick family tree.
“He drew up papers making Papa my legal guardian but gave custody to my parents,” he said. “When he died I drew his pension until I was 21. That money put me through college and I had money to share with my cousin Damani and my cousin John Alva [son of Luther Reddick] in Portland, Ore.”
James and Keene, who is 12 years younger, both majored in physics. Every adult family member at the reunion and many who didn’t make it has a college degree and prestigious careers. Keene is a retired college professor with 32 years at Howard University. James was an engineer and worked for a while in Silicon Valley before going to Chicago. Other members have made careers as teachers, insurance administrators, marketing and communications directors, realtors and more.
James’ son David, a professional chef, his wife, Lara Jordan James, and two of their three sons came from Massachusetts. The oldest, Davis James, recently graduated from Pace University; Aaron is a freshman at the University of Virginia and a nationally ranked soccer player. Sam is in high school.
“It’s really cool to see people here and meet new people,” said Sam James, youngest son of David and Lara.
Porter James’ daughter Juliet Bonner, her husband, Ben, and their daughter Zara came from Chicago. Zara, a sixth grade student in a private school in Chicago, is in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program.
“Here it’s about the history and it’s about the future proving people who are oppressed can succeed,” Keene told the gathering at the grand opening. “We feel very grateful to John Watt Reddick. This represents the kind of opportunity that can be made available if we put our hearts and minds together. John Watt Reddick is looking down saying this is quite amazing.”
Jackson closed with words to the officials of the city of Franklin, “We’re not done, yet.”