At one point in time, the public square in Franklin, Tenn., known for its bustling city shops and eateries as well as a statue of a Confederate soldier in its center, called “Chip” by the locals, was also the site of public lynchings and a slave auction block.
Now, the Fuller Story project is hoping that the square will instead be known for a new monument unveiled on Saturday, honoring Black Civil War soldiers enlisted in the U.S. Colored Troops, a regiment of the segregated Union army.
The monument, titled “March for Freedom,” has been a labor of love for leaders of the Fuller Story project for four years. According to News Channel 5 Nashville, Pastors Chris Williamson, Hewitt Sawyers, Kevin Riggs and historian and CEO of the Battle of Franklin Trust, Eric Jacobson, came together to create the Fuller Story project. They were inspired by a deadly white supremacy protest in Charlottesville, Va., over the removal of a Confederate General Robert E. Lee statue in 2017.
The project’s art initiative “A Fuller Story” is comprised of four placards honoring the Black experience in slavery, Reconstruction and Jim Crow. The project, the Tennessean reports, intends to tell a more complete and inclusive history of the city without Chip’s removal from the square.
According to the Associated Press, the monument was approved by the city last November and unveiled in a ceremony this past weekend in front of The Historic Courthouse in Franklin. The monument stands a little more than eye level across the street from Chip, the well-known monument honoring Confederate soldiers.
Here’s what the monument looks like according to AP:
The new statue was unveiled during an emotional ceremony attended by hundreds of people. It is one of the few stand alone monuments honoring the hundreds of African Americans from Franklin’s Williamson County and over 170,000 across the nation who joined the Union Army.
The soldier stands with one foot stepping on a decaying tree stump that signifies the end of the “tree of sorrow,” which Black people were tied to for sale or even hanged from as punishment, sculptor Joe Frank Howard said. A pair of broken shackles lie partly buried in dirt, signifying that the Black soldiers were “never to be chained again.”
However, it hasn’t been an easy road to success for the project. After a petition to place the placards in the public square gained traction in 2018, the United Daughters of the Confederacy (yes, that still exists) had sued the city claiming they owned both the Confederate monument and the entire public square. The UDC installed the monument back in 1899 but the organization had no land deed to support their claims, according to AP.
News Channel 5 notes that the city of Franklin settled with the UDC in 2020 saying that the organization owned the monument in the center of the square but nothing else. The first three markers went up in Oct. 2019 during the legal dispute.
“This glorious statue will stand in front of the Historic Courthouse in Franklin where hundreds of escaped slaves in Williamson County and surrounding areas fled to in order to enlist in the Union Army,” Williamson said, according to News Channel 5. “This statue represents the 186,000 United States Colored Troops soldiers who courageously fought for this country’s freedom and their own freedom. These black men are worthy to be honored and celebrated.”
“This is unity,” said Alma McLemore, according to the Tennessean. McLemore, who is president of the African American Heritage Society of Williamson County and a Franklin native, attended the ceremony. “This is bringing people together. We have to come together and tell the full story,” she said.