By JOHN McBRYDE
Following in the path of the man who was being honored Monday, speakers at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day service at First Missionary Baptist Church talked of love, peace and the power of being a unified community.
Specifically, the pastors, the historian and the community leader brought the initiative known as the “fuller story” to a spiritual level for the hundreds who attended the special church service and who would later march together to the historic courthouse in downtown Franklin. The idea of publicly displaying more about the Civil War story — especially as it relates to slavery and the African-American experience in the aftermath — served essentially as the theme of the service titled “A Stone of Hope.”
“I feel deeply, deeply, down in my soul, that what we’re doing today in honor of Dr. King by announcing and talking about the fuller story [means] it’s a new day in Franklin, a wonderful day in Franklin, where we are going to come together as a community and show the rest of the world how to deal with our past,” Kevin Riggs, pastor of Franklin Community Church, said as he kicked off the program.
“One of my favorite quotes, and one of the lesser known quotes from Dr. King, is, ‘There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take that because conscience tells him it is right. It’s the right thing to do.’”
More than a year ago Riggs had joined with two other Franklin pastors — Hewitt Sawyers of West Harpeth Primitive Baptist Church and Chris Williamson of Strong Tower Baptist Church — and Battle of Franklin Trust CEO Eric Jacobson to present the idea of the fuller story and the placement of four markers on the town square as well as a statue of a United States Colored Troops soldier.
“Our purpose in all of this is to bring unity to our city,” Riggs added. “We came together and said, ‘You know what, instead of tearing something down, let’s put something up. Instead of forgetting our history, let’s tell a fuller story about it.”
The markers will tell the stories of a former slave market on the square, a race riot, the era of Reconstruction and, in a revision from the original plan, the Confederate statue known as “Chip” currently standing on the square. The plan also calls for a statue of a United States Colored Troops soldier that would be placed somewhere in the town square of downtown Franklin. It would also include a marker.
The project is moving forward, but the proposal to place the markers in the town square has met resistance from the Franklin Chapter 14 of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which claims it has ownership of that section in the middle of the square. The case is currently awaiting a judge’s decision.
Jacobson and Williamson followed Riggs during the service, which was also filled with spirituals that stirred the crowd to clapping and singing along. Alma McLemore, president of the African American Heritage Society, also spoke.
“Tourism is huge here, with the Civil War and the Battle of Franklin being such a huge draw,” she said. “But what about the slaves, and their families and their stories? Don’t we owe it to them to show honor and to remember the sacrifices that they made?… We want to talk about this. We should thank them for their sacrifices. We owe it to them to tell the fuller story.”
After the service, the bundled attendees braced against the sub-freezing temperatures and marched to the courthouse to hear brief remarks from Franklin Mayor Ken Moore and more on the theme from Sawyers. He specifically drew attention to where the crowd had gathered and the vicinity of where the statue of the USCT soldier would possibly be placed.
“This courthouse has a very special meaning today,” he said, “because the old, old courthouse … was a place where slaves came in through the basement of this building, signed up to go in to the military so that they would be able to fight for their own freedom. This makes this location a very special location.”
First Missionary’s sanctuary and adjacent fellowship hall were overflowing with approximately 300 attendees, both black and white and from a wide range of ages and backgrounds.
“It’s fantastic,” said Kelly Poe, who attended the service with his wife, Jennie, and their daughters, Ashlyn and Georgia. “I thought it was a great combination of inspiring words but also great music. It’s great to talk about the history you don’t hear about enough, and certainly the movement of what we’re doing here in the city of Franklin to bring the right things to life and to honor our past in a different way.”
Ashlyn said that she was also impressed with the service. “I know a lot of people who are African American,” she said, “and I think it’s cool to hear about their history and to be able to support them.”