Old Franklin and New Franklin

I spend a lot of my time trying to explain the history of Old Franklin to people who might be considered New Franklin. The visual image of Franklin is our landscape of a Confederate monument surrounded by four Union cannons on our public square.  To begin, you have to understand the continuing attention to the Battle of Franklin. Many of you know of my 1964 confrontation with the 100th anniversary celebration during the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam Anti-war movement. I was concerned that we were perpetuating regional and racial animosity. I felt we were caught in a reverence and lingering allegiance for the Confederacy and a moral tolerance of our plantation life style with a culture and economy based on slavery. I grew up hearing stories of cruel task masters and benign acceptance of white supremacy.  I grew up knowing about the Daughters of the Confederacy and the monument and reading the inscription on our “second-place trophy” and hearing stories of ancestral heroics and military sacrifice.

Fast forward to 1989 and 1990, I was chairman of the Downtown Franklin Association during what we came to know as “Streetscape.  We were a separate entity from the Heritage Foundation and the Battlefield Trust. We were downtown retail merchants. Through a joint venture with the Heritage Foundation we created a historical district including a fifteen block commercial and residential area which has become the poster image of historic preservation.

Consider this scenario.  Williamson County is the seventh richest county and the fourteenth fastest growing county in America. We were the only Tennessee county Donald Trump did not carry in the Republican Primary, and yet he received 68% of the vote in the general election. Our public schools are the highest performing district in the State and our adult population is predominantly college graduates. We have a church on every corner and we are a church planter’s haven for evangelical exploitation of our Bible belt culture.

By any demographic standard about 70% of our population would identify as conservative, Republican, and Christian in whatever order or relationship the conversation might include. We still have black churches and white churches. We have black neighborhoods and white neighborhoods, but we have a community of racial harmony that defies the political image of conservatism. Our historical preservation and appreciation for our heritage helped create a mutual respect for our shared ancestral roots.

Like most southern towns we were slow and reluctant to integrate our churches, our schools, our public facilities, our merchant community, and our civic clubs. We were part of the racism and arrogance of Jim Crow mentality well into the 1970s.

To understand who we are, we need to examine what offends or does not offend us today. Obviously, we are offended by slavery, the Civil War, segregation, white supremacy, racism, bigotry, and to a degree by the symbols and artifacts we associate with our past. The current movement to remove or destroy Confederate monuments is a mixed message. This is not a liberal and conservative, black and white, or regional divide. The history of America, in our textbooks and our statuary, is replete with flawed heroes and demagogues. This would include our Founding Fathers and military icons in uniforms of both blue and gray. To erase these from our history, the printed word, chiseled in stone, or shaped in bronze, would be an injustice to academia, and a tragic loss for posterity.

We use these to teach the vanity and folly of war, and to learn about a history we should not have to repeat. Most of you are familiar with our Confederate soldier casually known as “Chip” from the missing piece of his hat, broken during the erection of the statue. He is part of a history of commemoration of the unknown Confederate soldiers spanning decades of regional and ideological affection for the Confederacy and the hallowed land on which they fought and died for an ignoble cause.

Let me share my local perspective. I share with Chip a common ancestry of slave owners. Chip probably did not own a slave. He took up arms, volunteering or conscripted, to defend his homeland. To me and most of my friends who are descendants of slaves and slave-owners, slavery was, or is, an abomination. It is part of our history. But for us who shared the institution of segregation and racial prejudice into the 1970s, racism and bigotry are our scars and sins of injustice.

I think I find a greater interracial harmony within Old Franklin than I find among New Franklin people.  There is a personal, human, hometown warmth among “old Franklin” friends. New people, black and white, who move to Franklin, seem to find or assume an interracial climate more akin to the current media imagery.

Consequently, all discussion about the statuary landscape and skyline seems misdirected. The guns and military artifacts are part of the character of Franklin, and to me they are historical and academic. I feel no affection or attraction to battlefields, reenactments, and would oppose any public funding for land purchase, rail fences, and stacks of cannon balls. As a former merchant, I respect the tourism revenue from these. I appreciate the aesthetic integrity of our public square when it is showcased in documentaries and on the covers of magazines.

My concern is the renewed political atmosphere of conservatism and racial conflict we experienced during the Obama presidency and the resurgence of racism in the first year of the Trump presidency. I watched the demonstrations in Charlottesville, with the Confederate flags and symbols and portrayal of the Klan culture of a former time. The political climate of Williamson County is changing. That is not who we are. I think I can safely say that our monument is safe. Our mission is not to erase our history, but to learn from it. Racism and the language of racism are indefensible. Members of Congress, Cabinet members, ambassadors, advisors, and celebrity icons are finding it difficult to function in this environment of racial and ideological disharmony. Many are resigning or choosing not to seek reelection. This is not about the presence of a concrete replica of a solitary soldier, or four artillery pieces that have been silent for 153 years. This is about a more perfect union, and casting aside our animosities, and raising our sons and daughters as Americans. This period of political obscenity shall pass, and America will welcome an age of moral and intellectual enlightenment.

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4 Comments on “Old Franklin and New Franklin”

  1. Kay Tomlin Says:

    I agree with you, Bill Peach!

  2. John Allen Chalk Says:

    Thanks, Bill, for your thoughtful piece. Your optimism is refreshing and courageous. Hope your view of “old Franklin” is accurate. Your friend.

  3. Phillip Morrison Says:

    Glad you’re writing again, old friend, and thanks for your perspective on the Franklin we were privileged to know for 26 years. God bless!

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