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(WSMV file photo)

Pastors push for diversity in Franklin historical markers

Middle Tennessee has a complicated, sometimes painful history. Three men who lead congregations are on a mission together to see that history is told.

Pastors Hewitt Sawyers, Kevin Riggs and Chris Williamson are proud to be the faith leaders pushing to tell more history of Franklin.

"I think this will be one of the first times I'll be able to walk downtown, and I can truly claim it as my city, our city," said Williamson, pastor of Strong Tower Bible Church. "We all like representation, and we all need representation. There was a time my ancestors could not question what was being told to them. We have a responsibility today to share this narrative in its fullness."

The pastors said conversations started more than a year ago.

"When the events of Charlottesville first occurred, we were very upset," said Williamson.

After a series of complicated discussions, the men decided they don't want to see the Confederate statue downtown go. Instead, they want historical markers added, starting with one describing the downtown slave market house.

"For over 50 years, men, women and children were bought and sold in my city," said Riggs, pastor of Franklin Community Church. "There are people who are in our community who still know who their great-grandparents were who were slaves in this city. Education is the key. More people learn about the whole story of the Civil War, I think that's where the balance will come into play. We can't really deal with the past until we deal with the truth of the past."

The pastors also want a marker that describes the hundreds of Williamson County soldiers who fought in the Civil War, a marker for the riot of 1967 and another for the reconstruction and Jim Crowe era.

In a work session Tuesday night, the pastors talked to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen. A city rep said they're drafting a resolution of support. The board will eventually vote on it.

The pastors are hoping to unveil the markers on Martin Luther King Jr. Day next year. They're hoping a statue of a black Union soldier can also be erected in the city by the following year.

The pastors have been working alongside Eric Jacobson of the Battle of Franklin Trust.

"The war ended a long time ago, but the legacy of the war still reverberates," said Jacobson.

"The Civil Rights movement was birthed out of the local church, so we have a responsibility to people of the community but also as spiritual leaders to step up," said Williamson. "We can't erase history, but we need to add to the history being told."

"They will have a much clearer understanding of what history was all about," said Sawyers, pastor of West Harpeth Primitive Baptist Church.

Copyright 2018 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.


Forrest Sanders is an award-winning reporter, videographer and editor at News4.

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