Debates are happening across America on what to do about statues and monuments to the confederacy. There are historic protections for many of those statues, meaning removal isn’t simple. Knowing that, a group went another path. It’s an effort that’s hoping to lead by example.
It's the sort of American downtown you see in movies: beautiful, full of friendly people. However, Pastor Chris Williamson says living in a place steeped in so much Civil War history can mean there are things in Franklin, Tennessee that are hard for a Black family to see.
“For many years, that history was told not inclusive of my people in a way that was redemptive,” said Williamson.
In the very heart of downtown overlooking Franklin is a statue of a confederate soldier. It’s been there since 1899.
“Statues like the one in the center of Franklin were put up to make statements,” said Williamson. “Black people stay in your place.”
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are more than 700 monuments and statues to the confederacy nationwide, most of them in the Southeast. The 2017 white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville renewed debates about these statues.
“I think what touched people’s hearts was the bloodshed in Charlottesville,” said Williamson. “People got tired.”
It was then a petition emerged to remove the statue from downtown Franklin while a second petition began to keep it there. All the while, Williamson was part of something searching for a different solution.
“What can we do? What can we put up?” he asked.
One morning, a statue of a Black union soldier was unveiled in downtown Franklin.
“What does this statue mean?” Williamson asked, speaking to a crowd from a podium. “This statue means hope. It means courage. It means possibility. It means dignity. It means valor.”
Williamson is part of a group of three pastors and one historian who call their work, The Fuller Story.
“I’m 53-years-old, and I’ve never seen a United States Colored Troops soldier statue in person,” he said. “Black people did more than work this land.”
The statue has become something people come downtown to see.
“We have representation now,” said Williamson. “We have someone who stands for us on the square. It’s a reminder once again in a fresh way of who actually won the war.”
With so many other cities having similar debates, Williamson hopes they’ll see this and be inspired to tell a fuller story too.
“It’s time for change,” he said. “It’s time to bring everyone to the table. Together, man, you can do something good.”