A statue installed in the town square in Franklin, Tennessee, last October has begun to correct that story. The statue, sculpted by Tennessee native Joe F. Howard and displayed on a base created by Vincent Baker, honors the United States Colored Troops. Fundraisers collected $150,000 to fund the statue, which was dedicated to much fanfare last fall. I had the opportunity this week to see it for myself for the first time.
Williamson County, Tennessee, where Franklin is located, furnished at least 300 men to the USCT, many of whom participated in the December 1864 battle of Nashville. A sign installed near the monument lists the fate of several of those men.
One soldier receiving special attention was Pvt. James Moore was in the 111th USCT, whom the figure in the statue seems loosely based on and whose story is featured on the sign. Captured by Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry at Sulphur Trestle, Alabama, Moore and other members of his regiment were returned to slavery and forced to work on the fortifications around Mobile Bay. Federal troops rescued him in May 1865. After the war, Moore settled in Williamson County.
The statue’s installation was part of an initiative called “The Fuller Story,” a city-wide project in Franklin that sprang from the wake of the 2017 events in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Fuller Story aimed “to provide proactive solutions on the national controversy surrounding Confederate monuments,” says the Battle of Franklin Trust website, with a focus “on what could be put up as opposed to what could be taken down.” Local churches led the way for the community dialogue that followed. For a fuller story on The Fuller Story, click here.
The Franklin town square is dominated by a Confederate memorial at the center of a traffic circle—a scene not uncommon in a lot of small towns. Cannons are posted on each of the four corners, facing outward. It’s a space fraught with meaning. According to a newspaper story that covered the unveiling, “The square is where enslaved people were sold and was the site of lynchings.” That made the square an uncomfortable place for some black residents. The statue’s presence seeks to help reclaim and redefine that space.
The statue stands on the northwest sidewalk on the outside of the traffic circle. It faces toward but not directly at the Confederate monument. The base of the statue says “Freedom. Liberty. Equality.”
In addition, the city and The Fuller Story have worked to provide context and interpretation for the overall space. Several wayside signs, like the one next to the USCT statue, are scattered throughout the square in an effort to contextualize.
I particularly liked the fact that the statue was at street level, not on a pedestal or plimf. That allowed me to look closely. I felt like I was engaging, not just staring up as something, which helped me appreciate it all the more.
For those who’ve not yet had the opportunity to see the statue for themselves, I’m pleased to offer a few additional photos for you:
Click here for more on Baker’s work creating the base.
Click here for more on the statue’s inscription.
Click here for more on the Battle of Franklin Trust.