Three preachers and a historian tell the 'fuller story' by proposing new Civil War monument, markers

Pastor Kevin Riggs of Franklin Community Church, Pastor Chris Williamson of Strong Tower Bible Church, historian Eric Jacobson and Pastor Hewitt Sawyers of West Harpeth Primitive Baptist Church met for a year to talk about how to approach the context of civil war monuments in Franklin. They devised a proposal "The Fuller Story," received positively by the Franklin Board of Mayor and Aldermen Tuesday, consisting of the erection of four historic markers educating about slavery and African American soldiers in Franklin as well as a proposal to erect the state of a United States Colored Troops soldier. 

A few weeks ago we shared an idea with the Board of Mayor and Alderman (BOMA) that we called a “Fuller Story” (www.fullerstory.org). The idea involved two phases. The first phase was the placement of four historical markers around the square highlighting the courthouse/marketplace where men, women, and children were sold; a racial riot that took place in 1867; the three-hundred escaped or freed slaves from Williamson County who fought in the United States Colored Troops; and the reconstruction period in Franklin. Phase two is the erection of a bronze statue in downtown in honor of the United States Colored Troops. 

This idea was a year in the making and came about after much dialogue and prayer. The impetus was the tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia and how we did not want to see something like that happening in our city. From the beginning, our goal has been to be proactive and to do something positive, building on our city’s great Civil War history. We recognize the tension in our country around Confederate monuments and want to be an example of how a community can handle that tension by telling a more complete story with honesty, humility, and integrity. It is our deepest desire to unite our city and to build up instead of tear down. Our hope is that through telling a fuller story we will show respect to our past as well as inspire our future generations. 

At our first meeting (Tuesday, Aug. 14) we received overwhelming support from the members of BOMA. We laid out a two-year time-line for the historical markers and the statue. One alderman suggested that our timeline was too long and our plan needed to be implemented immediately. This alderman also stated that the markers and statue should be located in a place of “equal nobility” to the monument already on the square. Another alderman commented that our idea was extraordinary and an example that cities across the country could emulate. We believe the uniqueness of our idea is that it is being led by the pastors and churches of our beautiful city. 

Two weeks later, at our second meeting (Tuesday, Aug. 28), a resolution of support for a “Fuller Story” was delayed for four weeks by BOMA. After the meeting, BOMA met in executive session and decided to file a lawsuit, forcing a decision on land ownership concerning the square. The result of the lawsuit is that a “Fuller Story” has now been delayed indefinitely. Ultimately the lawsuit has little to do with our idea, and a judge’s decision will have little impact on the implementation of a “Fuller Story.” Now, we wait patiently, eager to move forward. Our hope is that the resolution of support will pass at the next BOMA meeting (Tuesday, Sept. 25). 

In the mean time, we are concerned there has been a degree of confusion and misunderstanding about our purpose in stepping forward with this idea. The goal of this editorial is to better communicate our intentions. 

As pastors, with over 75 years of combined experience ministering in Franklin, we believe pastors and churches should lead this project because, at its root, the divisions we see in our city and country are spiritual and require spiritual leadership. We firmly believe that churches, more than any other organization, are equipped to bring reconciliation and healing. If, God forbid, something were to happen in our city like what has happened in other cities, pastors would be the first people city leaders would look to for guidance, wisdom, and prayer.  

A “Fuller Story” is an opportunity to stay in front of these tensions and prevent something negative from happening here. 

A “Fuller Story” did not come about quickly, or without input from key people. Over the course of this past year we have done our best to do our due diligence. Over the last twelve months we have spent considerable time speaking with…

…Mayor Ken Moore and City Administrator Eric Stuckey.

…Mayor Rogers Anderson and County Commissioners, both retired and present day.

…the African American Heritage Society.

…Civil War historian Tina Jones.

…Franklin historian Rick Warwick.

…The Downtown Business Association.

…The Convention Center and Visitors Bureau.

…Pastors and Church Leaders across Franklin and Williamson County.

…long time educator Mary Mills.

…African American historian Thelma Battle.

…historians from the Tennessee Historical Commission.

…historians from Tennessee State University and Middle Tennessee State University.

We are ministers of the gospel. We are pastors. Every week we stand before our people and read and teach from an ancient text. We understand the importance of historical accuracy. We know the importance of a strong hermeneutic. We know the dangers of stating something as fact that is not a fact. There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that we will strive for historical accuracy in both the markers and the statue. We promise to put up historical markers, not interpretive markers. We promise to uphold the dignity of past stories as we tell a fuller story.

We believe the best place for these markers and statue is on the square, or in close proximity to the square. Why? Because that is where the story has been told for the last one hundred and nineteen years. Because that is where the “Fuller Story” will receive “equivalent nobility.” 

During the unveiling of the downtown monument in 1899, the local newspaper, The Review Appeal,interviewed ladies from the Daughters of the Confederacy. They said that much discussion was had on where to place the monument. Some thought it would be best if it were on the battlefield, or at Carter House or Carnton Plantation. They said they decided on the middle of the square because they wanted it to be in a public space where it could be used to educate children throughout the following decades (The Review Appeal,Thursday, December 7, 1899). We believe they were right in their assessment. We agree with their sentiment and believe the downtown square is the perfect public space to tell the “Fuller Story.” 

We live in a wonderful city. We are blessed to call Franklin home. We have incredibly committed city leaders and benevolent people. It is our prayer the right thing will be done. It is our prayer we can all move forward together.

Sincerely,

Rev. Hewitt Sawyers – Senior Pastor at West Harpeth Primitive Baptist Church

Rev. Dr. Chris Williamson – Senior Pastor at Strong Tower Bible Church

Rev. Dr. Kevin Riggs – Senior Pastor at Franklin Community Church

Mr. Eric Jacobson – Chief Executive Officer at Battle of Franklin Trust

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