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Friday, June 21, 2019

Mrs. Callie Guy House - and the story of the Middle Tennessee movement for slavery reparations

This week, the US House of Representatives held a meeting in Washington, DC to explore H.R. 40 to create a commission to develop proposals to address the lingering effects of slavery and consider a “national apology” for the harm it has caused.  There are many other bloggers and historians who have explored the issue of reparations.  I will not attempt to fully discuss that issue here. However, I think it is worth a bit of time to delve into middle Tennessee's role in the reparations movement.  I suspect many Tennesseans, including myself until I began this journey, did not realize the significant role this area played in the call for reparations - led primarily by one woman named Callie House, a widowed mother of five who spent a year in prison for her troubles.

First, however, I wanted to take a brief look back at the timeline of how - right after the Civil War - the federal government addressed the issue of what might be due to those released from slavery and how those efforts were playing out right here in Williamson County. Initially efforts focused on providing land to those recently freed -- thus, the "Forty Acres and a Mule" proposal that became popular; later private efforts (such as those by Callie House) turned to attempts to obtain pensions for formerly enslaved people. 

40 Acres and a Mule
  • January 1865. Special Field Order No. 15, issued by Gen. William T. Sherman promised 40 acres of abandoned and confiscated land in South Carolina, Georgia, and northern Florida (largely the Sea Islands and coastal lands that had previously belonged to Confederates) to formerly enslaved people. Sherman also decided to loan mules to former slaves who settled the land. This was the genesis of "40 acres and a mule."
  • March 3, 1865 - The Freedmen's Bureau was established by Congress to help the formerly enslaved transition to freedom. Section 4 of the Freedmen's Bureau Act placed abandoned land in the hands of the Bureau and authorized the Bureau to rent up to 40 acres of confiscated or abandoned land to the formerly enslaved or to loyal white refugees for a term of three years. At the end of the term, or at any point during the term, the male occupants renting the land had the option to purchase it and would then receive a title to the land. This appears to have codified the "40 acres" ideal throughout the South.
    • In April 1865, the Freedmen's Bureau took possession of several large tracts of land from former rebel landowners in Williamson County. It is likely they planned to redistribute it under the Section 4 authority of the Freedmen's Bureau authorizing legislation.

    • Two accountings of the land held by the Bureau in Williamson County from this time period showed these large parcels - all rated as "Good."
      • H G W Mayberry Farm 16th District (1,680 acres) [aka Beechwood Hall]
      • W. S. H. Hill Farm 8th District (two parcels - 880  and 195 acres)
      • John H. Hunter Farm 8th District (395 acres)
      • S. [Sidney] Prior Smith Farm, 8th District (946 acres)
      • Wm. C. Pope, 4th District (230 acres)
      • James M. Fitzgerald, 2nd District (282 acres)
      • F. W. Dodson Place, 4th District (350 acres)
  • However, just a short time later on May 29, 1865, President Andrew Johnson declared an Amnesty Proclamation restoring property rights (except "as to slaves") to the majority of former Confederates. In response, large number of former rebels whose property was held by the Bureau, began to apply for and gain restoration of their former real property rights. This gutted the Bureau's efforts to provide land for the formerly enslaved and essentially rescinded the bargains made between the them and the Bureau. 
  • As a result, on September 12, 1865, the Freedmen's Bureau had to issue Special Field Order No. 15 which adopted formal rules under which real property would be restored to its former rebel owners.  By the end of 1865, thousands of the formerly enslaved were evicted from land that had been earlier distributed to them. 
    • The Bureau did try to protect the tenants by stipulating that land cultivated by refugees or freedmen should be retained until the growing crops were gathered, unless the owner made full compensation for the labor expended and its products.
  • By December 1865,report issued by Gen. Howard the new director of the Freedmen's Bureau (former commander of the federal Army of Tennessee and namesake of Howard University) predicted that by the end of the year, the Bureau would hold no land owned by former rebels: "Under the provisions of this circular, the work of restoration has progressed very rapidly, and it is probable that when the year terminates, little or no property will remain under control of the bureau."
    • Howard's report continued: "The uncertainty of the tenure of the bureau over property, which is the immediate result of [President Johnson's] policy of restoration adopted, has rendered the division and assignment of land to refugees and freedmen impracticable. ... Difficulty has arisen from disappointing the natural and well-founded expectations of freedmen in this subject... Much embarrassment, and, in some instances, actual suffering has resulted from the restoration of property in use as offices, colonies of freedmen, and hospitals -- and much more will result from the curtailment of the revenue of the bureau."
  • On January 1, 1866, hundreds of formerly enslaved people in Williamson County entered into labor contracts under the protection of the Freedmen's Bureau here.
    • By April 1866, the effects of President Johnson's amnesty was clear here in Williamson County.  Nearly all of the lands previously counted as "Abandoned" and under the Bureau's control had now been returned to the hands of the former rebel owners as a result of either Presidential Pardons or the Amnesty provisions:
      • F W Dodson, 4th Civil District, 350 acres valued at $7,000; in possession of previous owner who had "taken the amnesty oath"
      • James M. Fitzgerald, 2nd Civil District, Farm of 282 Acres of Land, valued at $12,000; in possession of previous owner who had "taken the amnesty oath"
      • W. S. H. Hill, 16th Civil District, Farm of two plots of 880 & 195 Acres of land, valued at $27,000; in possession of previous owner who has received the President's Pardon; Hill owned the Roper's Knob property and perhaps some of this land is the subject of this account; he was later a judge in Franklin]
      • John H. Hunter, Hillsboro [Leiper's Fork], 3rd Civil District, 375 acres of Land and a good dwelling, valued at $6,000; in possession of previous owner who had "taken the amnesty oath"
      • William C. Pope, 4th Civil District, Good dwelling and 30 acres of land - "deceased"
      • H. [Henry] G. W. Mayberry, 3rd Civil District, 1,680 acres of land (450 tillable), valued at $22,000; in possession of previous owner - has no pardon, "but more than half of his property is in the chancery court" - Mayberry had served as quartermaster for the Confederates in Williamson County and almost lost his farm following the War
      • Mrs. James A. McNutt, Franklin on Lewisburg Pike, Brick House and 30 acres of land, valued at $3,000; "used as a Freedmens School" - this home was reclaimed by the McNutt family by the fall of 1866 and they were operating their own school out of the home by Sept 1866
      • Sidney Prior Smith (see Horrace Harrison), farm of 500 (947?) acres and a good dwelling; valued at $23,000; in possession of previous owner who had "taken the amnesty oath" and has a Presidential Pardon

  • In June 1866 the Southern Homestead Act was enacted. It was designed to exclusively give formerly enslaved people and white southern loyalists first choice of the remaining public lands from five southern states during the six month period from June 1866 until January 1, 1867.
    • However, the law made it very difficult for homesteaders to actually purchase land through the act. Many formerly enslaved people - including those in Williamson County - were already under labor contracts through the end of the year. Others may have already leased land and could not get out of their contract to switch to a homestead plot.
  • This was largely the end of the formal efforts to grant formerly enslaved people land on which to rebuild their lives. 

  • Ex-Slave Pensions

By the late 1870s, federal Reconstruction and much of its protections had come to a crushing end. Jim Crow segregation was on the rise across the country. Over the next decades as the success of the pension program for federal Civil War veterans grew - calls for pensions to support the many now-aging formerly enslaved people in the American south began to gain traction.  Many of these veterans were African American soldiers of the US Colored Troops. The pensions collected by them or their widows and dependents - had the power to be transformative.

In 1890, a Congressman from Nebraska introduced a bill at the urging of his constituent, Walter R. Vaughan of Omaha, a white Democrat and former mayor of Council Bluffs, Iowa.  The bill would have created a tax break to help southern blacks, but it never passed.

By 1891 Vaughan was placing ads in newspapers across the south advertising his idea for creating a pension program for former slaves. He was forming "clubs" to help support his pension bill that would provide a $500 lump sum and up to $15/month to beneficiaries. 

On June 6, 1897 Vaughn held a meeting in Nashville at St. John's AME church to recruit members to his clubs. According to one newspaper account, 40 of these clubs existed in the area with a membership of 900 people.

Nashville American Monday June 7, 1897
On June 6,  Vaughan addressed a large crowd at St. John's AME church to garner support for his pension program.
The_Nashville_Globe_Friday July 5, 1912
In September  of that year, Vaughan's organization held its first National Convention and it was in Nashville. Peter F. Hill of Nashville was appointed as Vaughan's authority in the south for what was then called the "Ex-Slave Club Association of the United States of America" - sometimes called "Vaughan's Clubs." Hill was also at that time the national president of the benefit organization, the United Brothers of Friendship.

Another group, probably encouraged by the efforts of Hill and Vaughan, formed at the same time the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty and Pension Association (MRB&PA) in Nashville. One significant difference between this group and Vaughan's clubs was that it was run and operated entirely by African Americans. The association's two leaders were Rev. Isaiah H. Dickerson and Callie D. Guy House. Dickerson was an educator and minister. House was a widow, laundress, and the 35-year-old mother of five young children. 

It is worth noting that during this time period, lynchings and violence against African Americans continued at horrifying rates.  This article appeared in a Richmond, VA newspaper counting all those murdered for the year 1897 - some of the reasons for their killings included perceived infractions such as "talked too much" or "drank soda water."
Richmond Planet, Sept. 22, 1900

In November 1898 the Third Convention of the MRB&PA was held in Nashville at the Gay Street Christian Church. According to the published minutes, the officers of the organization included Rev. McNairy (Nashville), Rev. Smith (Hartsville), Callie House (Murfreesboro), H. Head (Gallatin), and I. H. Dickerson (Nashville). At the meeting, Callie House read Senate Bill No. 4718, "A Bill to Provide Pension for Freedmen and So Forth."

Badge of the MRB&PA
Sold through Cowan's Auction
By January 1899, McNairy and the other officers had created an office in Washington, DC where they were overseeing the organization's membership of 600,000. One of the members acting as a local agent in Williamson County was A. G. Bostick of the Triune area. He was probably Gustin Bostick (b. 1833) who had been enslaved by the Bostick family in Williamson County.

Certificate of membership in the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty and Pension Association.
(Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, RG 15)
Evening Star (Washington DC)
Sept 21, 1899

As the association's membership grew, government interest and scrutiny likewise increased. On September 1899 a fraud warrant was issued against the MRB&PA Officers. The federal government claimed they were committing mail fraud by taking money from members for promises they could not deliver (i.e. getting a pension for formerly enslaved people). The US Postal Service was no longer allowed to deliver any of the organization's mail or that of its officers - a major blow to the group.

Callie House wrote to Henry Clay Evans, the Pension Commissioner, defending herself and the actions of the organization. Her letter was so eloquent that I wanted to transcribe it in full here:

Nashville, Tennessee, Dec. 13, 1900

Hon. H. Clay Evans, P. C. [Pension Commissioner] Washington, DC
Hon. Sir,
I take the opportunity of writing to you to explain to you the objects and workings of the Ex-Slave Mutual Relief Bounty & Pension Association. By chance, I came in possession of the report of the pension committee Jan. 16th, 1900 accompanied by Senate Bill No. 1176 and saw my name in the same & will say there has been false evidence given in to you and the Post Office department against the Ex-Slave Mutual Relief Bounty & Pension Association. This association is formed just like any other society to take care of the sick & bury its dead & the only feature in the organization that's not exact to other societies is the petitioning to the government for the passage of some measure for the Relief of the old ex-slaves in their old declining years. The whole & sole objects [page 2] of the MRB&PA is to take care of the sick, bury the dead & petition Congress for the passage of some measure to pension the old ex-slaves for this government owes the ex-slaves an indemnity for the labor they was rob[bed] of after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence that declared all men born equal. The negro was worked and taxed as chattel under the Flag that you all claim to all nations to wave over the land of the free and home of the brave. Now since we have been freed and made citizens we can read for ourselves that we ought to have been free nearly 100 years before we was. We, the officers and members of the MRB&PA are working by the laws that the white man north and south made. We are citizens made so by our white friends. The constitution of the United States grants its citizens the privilege to petition Congress for the redress of grievances. Therefore I can't see where we have violated any law whatever. The monthly dues we [count?] in the report are used by the members of the Association for sick & burial purposes as before stated and are [page 3] not used by the General officers as been stated. The joining fee is used for General expenses of the association just like that of Odd Fellows, Knights of Honor and other institutions. The evidence given in the Congress would certainly pass the Ex-Slave pension bill does not reach this institution. We have held out no representations or promises to the Ex-Slaves. Affidavits are being made by the members of this association that understood that the bill was not a law but they was to petition for the passage of it or some other measure similar to it to help them as they are now old and bent up with rheumatism from the exposure they undergone in the dark days of slavery and are not able to perform manual labor. The male members of this association are supporters of the Republican party and I don't think that party ought to prohibit them from asking Congress for something by tying up their mail. They are law-abiding citizens and have not violated no law. I hope you will [page 4] sympathize with these old people and not try to keep them from a little aid. . . . Respectfully . . Callie House, National Secretary, MRB&PA US, 16 Trimble Street, Nashville, Tenn

Pension Legislation, Pension Efforts & Litigation

In 1902, Callie House stepped down from her role with the organization due to continued federal scrutiny. The following year, the last major federal legislation pressing for reparations for formerly enslaved people - proposed by Alabama Congressman Edmund Pettus - failed. The legislative appetite for such a program seemed to be gone. Other avenues for compensation would need to be found.

By 1907, the investigation into the MRB&PA had likewise "petered out". The US Post Master implied the lack of prosecutions against Callie House and the leadership of the MRB&PA was perhaps due to the fact that the investigation had made things "too hot" for the officers to continue.  But in reading through the files available online, it seems clear that the case against them was very flimsy - most "witnesses" were writing to prosecutors asking for information about how to obtain pensions, not to claim fraud, and when they did claim fraud it was because they were told that the MRB&PA was engaged in fraud, not because they initially believed it.

. . . .

Callie House, however, did not lose her desire to help people. In
 1909, when her old friend Isaiah Dickerson died, she took over their organization. According to the Census in 1910, she was the "traveling agent" for a mutual aid association - almost surely the MRB&PA. Throughout the early 1910s the Nashville directory listed her as a "lecturer." She was travelling around the United States speaking, advocating and enlisting new members for her organization.

Topeka Plaindealer
November 12, 1915

Topeka Plaindealer
July 30, 1916
In 1915 Callie House decided to try another tack to gain compensation for formerly enslaved citizens of the US.  She enlisted the aid of Memphis attorney Cornelius Jones to sue the Treasury Department for $68,073,388.99 in cotton taxes traced to slave labor in Texas. It was believed this money was held in a fund by the federal government. Under this new scheme - essentially a class action - each claimant of the Civil War Cotton Revenue Claim paid $1.75 into a pool to fund the litigation.

In 1916 Postmaster General A. S. Burleson once again went after Callie House for mail fraud charges - alleging that the payments to fund the Cotton Revenue litigation amounted to fraud. On May 10, 1916, Nashville's US District Attorney Lee Douglass filed indictments against House and other officers of the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty, and Pension Association charging that they had obtained money from ex-slaves by fraudulent circulars proclaiming that pensions and reparations were forthcoming. She was arrested in August and according to the Nashville Tennessean newspaper article, she was not able to make the hefty bail and thus bound over to the Davidson County jail. It made me wonder - if they suspected her of defrauding thousands of people, why was she not able to make bail? At that time, she was 54 years old.

Nashville Tennessean
August 4, 1916, page 3

On September 1, 1916, the Civil War Cotton Revenue Claimants held a convention in Canton, Mississippi. 2,300 people attended and a thorough accounting of the funds raised to fund the litigation so far was made. In October 1916, House's son Thomas was also indicted.  It wasn't for another year that Callie's trial was held - in Nashville in October 1917.

Nashville Globe
October 12, 1917
House was convicted of fraud and served time in the Missouri State Penitentiary from November 22, 1917 to August 1, 1918.  She had been sentenced to serve one year and one day, and was sent there because it was one of the few places to send female federal inmates. 
Missouri State Penitentiary

Registry of Callie D. House's incarceration at the Missouri State Penitentiary.
By 1920, Callie had re-united with her adult children at her home on 10th Avenue in Nashville. Callie and her daughter Annie worked as seamstresses out of their home. Her son William worked as a Tailor in a tailor shop. Another daughter Mattie, who was ill, also lived with the family as did a grandson. Callie appears to have left behind her work advocating for compensation for former slaves.

Callie Guy House died from cancer at her home in Nashville, Tennessee on June 6, 1928, at the age of 67. She was buried in the "family lot" at what is today called Greenwood Cemetery but her graveside is unmarked and has not been identified.

Following her death, many of Callie House's followers would later be absorbed into Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association - which was also targeted with charges of mail fraud as a way of controlling the movement.

Callie House's story has not been entirely forgotten.  In 2006, Professor Mary Frances Berry wrote a well-received biography about her entitled, My Face Is Black Is True: Callie House and the Struggle for Ex-Slave Reparations.  


In 2015 Vanderbilt University's African American and Diaspora Studies Program renamed its research arm the Callie House Research Center for the Study of Black Cultures and Politics.

Callie House's legacy as a powerful, courageous woman can inspire us all - and her story also serves as a reminder that the call for reparations is not a new one.  The demand for compensation began soon after the Civil War and was never adequately addressed.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

The Juneteenth Holiday and its Connections to Williamson County

Update:  In 2020, due to concerns about the spread of CoVid19, the African American Heritage Society of Williamson County will be hosting a Virtual Juneteenth Celebration. They have planned a week-long observance of this holiday on our FacebookTwitter and Instagram accounts.  Please follow them there for videos, articles, photographs and information about Juneteenth and local African American history.

History of Juneteenth. Juneteenth is also known as Freedom Day and is an American holiday that commemorates June 19, 1865 - the day when Major General Gordon Granger announced to the enslaved people in Texas that they were free.  This was more than 2 1/2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation had gone into effect and two months after General Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox on April 9, 1865. 

General Gordon Granger
Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

General Granger had arrived in Texas after a long career in the military that included time in Franklin, Tennessee.  
During the Civil War, from approximately March to May 1863, a fort was constructed by the US Army on Figuers Bluff overlooking downtown Franklin, the railroad depot, and the Harpeth River. Much of this work was conducted under the command of Gen. Granger and the fort was subsequently named for him - Fort Granger.

The Fort was constructed by thousands of men in the federal Army as well as many African American men who were freeing enslavement. The 98th Ohio Infantry was in Franklin during this time and their doctor frequently wrote columns in their hometown newspaper reporting on events that affected the soldiers.  On April 1st, 1863, he wrote from Franklin that, 

"It is astonishing to see the contraband [runaway slaves] coming in - drove after drove. I think old Abe's Proclamation is doing up the business finely. When first issued I felt opposed to it, thinking it impolite; but since my return to Dixie I have quite changed by opinion. I think it is sapping the very foundation of the Rebels' last hope.

There are not less than five hundred runaway slaves in Gen. Granger's Corps. They, at an average of $500 would amount to a quarter of a million dollars. Our mess has one that sold for $1,700 a few years since."
Belmont_(Ohio) Chronicle
Thursday, Apr 9, 1863
Column is written by Dr. Henry West of the 98th Ohio
while they were stationed in Franklin, Tennessee

Some of the black men who worked on Fort Granger later enlisted in the segregated part of the US Army called the US Colored Troops, including in particular the 15th US Colored Infantry.

As the Civil War came to a close, some troops were kept on active duty and sent to the US-Mexico border.  Among them were many regiments of US Colored Troops soldiers that included several men from Williamson County.  General Granger was at the helm when they arrived in Galveston, Texas on June 19th and issued his famous Order No. 3 - announcing the end of slavery there.

Daily Dallas Herald (Dallas, Texas) July 1, 1865, Page 1

This day has been celebrated as Juneteenth every year - particularly in Texas. Early on, the celebrations often included prayer services, inspirational speakers, and often a recitation of the Emancipation Proclamation. Sometimes, people who had been enslaved would speak. Often special food and strawberry soda was served, games were played and music performed. In middle Tennessee, the Nashville newspapers reported on these celebrations - such as this article reporting on the 1883 Juneteenth celebration.


The Juneteenth celebrations eventually spread from Texas to nearby Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Later, emigrants brought their celebrations from those states to their new homes; it was especially popular in Alabama, Florida, and California.

Emancipation Day Celebrations in Tennessee

In Tennessee, African American communities initially celebrated their emancipation on either January 1st - in honor of the Emancipation Proclamation - or in August to celebrate the state's abolition of slavery.

January 1 Celebrations.  As early as the very first anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, a celebration was planned in Nashville for January 1, 1864. A parade through downtown Nashville was mapped out. It is important to remember that at this point, the War was still raging in Tennessee and slavery had not been legally abolished here although it was quickly unraveling in practical effect.

Friday, January 1, 1864

In this article from 1871, the newspaper described an Emancipation Day celebration in Nashville at the Ninth Street Colored Church that included a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation and a speech by Judge Cox which recounted the life's story of Robert Garner.  The story of Garner and particularly his wife Margaret later became the basis of Toni Morrison's book Beloved.  After Cox's speech, Garner - who was in attendance in Nashville - answered some questions of the attendees.   

The Tennessean, Friday January 6, 1871

During the late 1880s through the 1910s, the Emancipation Day celebrations in Nashville became large-scale events with Fisk and the other African American colleges taking part. The newspapers reported on committees forming to decorate the Tennessee legislature, readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, music, speeches, and street parades.


This article from the Nashville Globe newspaper describes a celebration in Franklin at Shorter Chapel on the Emancipation Proclamation anniversary. Shorter Chapel and other African American churches continue to observe this event with Watch Night services on New Year's Eve each year.

August Celebrations in Tennessee.  

In Tennessee, African American communities appear to have also been celebrating Emancipation in August as well as January since the late 1800s. On August 8, 1898, in Clarksville 
over 1,000 people gathered at Porter Bluff Park to parade. Over the years this celebration grew. Black townspeople flooded the city’s streetcars while several thousand participants from cities as far south as Nashville and as far north as Indianapolis came by train, steamboat, buggy, horse, foot, and later by motor bus and car. In 1984, Emma E. Williams Burt, wife of the operator of Clarksville’s first hospital, Dr. Robert T. Burt, described the first celebration this way:
People came from far and near—train loads of people—to celebrate Homecoming. There was a parade. We were always in it with our decorated buggy and always won a prize. After the Parade everyone went to Porter’s Road [Bluff] Cave to celebrate where there were games, speaking, barbecues, and people had a great reunion.
Over the years, on the "Eighth of August", black Clarksvillians have continued to celebrate the date, as do several communities on the western Tennessee-Kentucky border. In 2007, Governor Phil Bredesen signed House Bill No. 207 acknowledging August 8 as “Emancipation Day,” an annual day of special observance to recognize the freeing of Andrew Johnson’s personal slaves and “the significance of emancipation in the history of Tennessee.”

1897 Exposition Celebration: Emancipation Day

The Nashville American, September 20, 1897
In September 1897 Tennessee hosted the Exposition and September 22nd was heralded as "Emancipation Day."  Booker T. Washington of the Tuskegee Institute was one of the speakers. Famous organist of the time, Will Accooe, performed as well.

Modern Juneteenth Celebrations. Juneteenth celebrations fell out of favor across the United States in the mid-1900s until a resurgence in the interest in African American history in the last 20 years.  Now the holiday is observed across the United States. These events still include public readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, singing traditional songs such as "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and "Lift Every Voice and Sing", and reading of works by noted African-American writers such as Ralph Ellison and Maya Angelou. Celebrations often include street fairs, cookouts, family reunions, park parties, historical reenactments, and Miss Juneteenth contests. 

Juneteenth in Franklin

In 2005, the African American Heritage Society of Williamson County hosted the first modern-day Juneteenth celebration in Franklin at the McLemore House. 



It is important to remember that the end of slavery did not happen on one date or at one time.  It was a very personal process - it happened on an individual basis.  Some enslaved people claimed their freedom by escaping early in the War. Others, due to personal circumstances (i.e., age, or motherhood) waited longer to leave.  There was no magic wand that ended slavery all at once.  Andrew Moss, a white Unionist in Franklin described the process this way in a January 1866 newspaper article

The tenure of slavery was thoroughly cut in my county, by some means, during the fall and winter of 1862-3 but I don't know who done it. It is said that the proclamation of President Lincoln done it, but I am not sure that that is the fact, as I know that the cord was fast unwinding before his proclamation was issued. 

The basis for all these holidays was a celebration of the end of slavery - an institution that was deeply embedded in the fabric of Williamson County from its foundation until the Civil War. There is not a piece of land in the County that is not touched by the stain of slavery. On this blog, I have traced the stories of many individual people who were enslaved here - I encourage you to read some of their stories this Juneteenth and marvel at their lives and accomplishments:
  • Martha Harrison was born around 1849 and grew up in the Hillsboro (now called Leiper's Fork) area of Williamson County, TN. She was enslaved by the Buford and Cunningham families. She said in an interview in the 1930s that “N****** ain’t scared of white folks now."
  • Pvt. Miles German was born abt 1833 in Franklin, TN and enslaved by the family of Dan German Sr. in the area where the McKays Mills subdivision is today.
  • Pricilla Holland Gray was born in 1830 in Williamson County and enslaved by Amos & Sophia Holland. She lived to be 107 and described her emancipation this way "When freed, our white folks didn't give us nothing."
  • Millie Simpkins was born abbout 1837 in Williamson County, TN. She described emancipation this way: "we didn't get nothing when we were freed. Just drove away without nothing to do with. ...Some of the slaves might have got something but I don't know nobody that did." 
  • Louvenia Marshall Mayberry was enslaved as a child by Judge John Marshall in downtown Franklin. She was then sold to the Marshall's son in law who kept her in bondage past the end of the Civil War when she told him she knew, "I'm free, just as free as the birds in the air." 
  • Green Irving Currin as born in Williamson County about 1842. He became the first African American to serve in the Oklahoma Territorial Legislature and was a champion of Civil Rights. 
  • Vergy Andrews was enslaved by Rev. Mark Andrews' family in Franklin, TN where the indoor soccer complex is on Downs Boulevard near Jim Warren Park. "They told us we were free, but of course we didn’t know where to go nor nothing."
  • 1st Sgt. George Jordan was born in Williamson County in 1848. In 1866 he joined the US Army and then Co K, 9th US Cavalry - the Buffalo Soldiers. He is the only person from Williamson County to earn a Congressional Medal of Honor.
  • The Young Family About 1850, Charlotte Young, her husband Sam, and their infant son Sam Jr were sold in Virginia and brought to Franklin, TN. They had been sold by human "speculators" as Charlotte described it in an 1877 newspaper ad searching for her lost mother.
  • Cpl. Abraham McGavock and his parents Dafny and Daniel Perkins. Cpl McGavock was the youngest son of Daphne Perkins. Enslaved by Nicholas Tate Perkins in Franklin, TN. Daphe described that "I became free by the coming of US Troops into our Country in 1863." 
  • 1st Sgt. Andrew Ewing 1st Sgt. Andrew Ewing was born in 1831 in Williamson County, TN, and enslaved by Alexander Ewing. In 1863, he enlisted in the 12th US Colored Infantry and served as its highest-ranking black soldier. 
  • Wiley and Jane Brown Scruggs  Wiley Scruggs was enslaved by Joe Scruggs on a farm where the Westhaven subdivision is in Franklin, TN. In an interview, he described how his mother wanted to escape during the Civil War, but being a child, he was too afraid to leave.
  • Pvt. Edward "Ned" Scruggs was born about 1836 in Williamson County, TN and enslaved by Ed Scruggs on Carter's Creek Pike about where Grace Chapel is today. On September 24, 1863, he enlisted in Company F of the 13th US Colored Infantry.
  • Pvt. William Holmes was born in Virginia and served in the 5th Mass Colored Cavalry. He was in Galveston on June 19, 1865 (#Juneteenth
    ) Following the Civil War, he settled in Williamson County, TN where he married, raised a family & is buried.
  • The Granville and Catherine Crump family  Granville Crump, a blacksmith, and his wife Katherine were born in the 1830s in Williamson County, TN. Their children attended Fisk University - a daughter was a Jubilee singer. A son was a community activist and leader.
  • Pvt. Granville Scales was born 1845 in the College Grove area of Williamson County, TN. He enlisted in the 44th US Colored Infantry and was taken POW 2x and escaped 2x. He lost an arm in combat but stayed in the USCT until his regiment mustered out. 
  • The Bostick Family of Triune Charlotte & Washington Bostick and their family was enslaved by John Bostick's family in Triune. Their children were sent to Arkansas to farm cotton and 3 sons enlisted in the US Navy during the Civil War. Then they established a black town in IL
  • Pvt. Freeman Thomas was b. 1845 in the Cool Springs area of Franklin, TN. He enlisted in the 12th US Colored Infantry: "This was the biggest thing that ever happened in my life. I felt like a man, with a uniform on and a gun in my hand."
  • Pvt. John Dubuisson served in the 100th US Colored Infantry & fought at the Battle of Nashville. Following the War, he married and settled in Franklin where he raised a very successful family. His son owned a Negro league baseball team in Arkansas. 
These are just a sampling of Williamson County's native sons and daughters.  Their stories are our stories and deserve celebrating.  

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Nashville's Capital City Directory

On today's date - June 6 - 1915 - the Nashville Banner newspaper published a small article about a publication in that city - the Capital City Directory. This Directory had been published the previous year by the Nashville Baptist Publishing Board.  The Capital City Handbook was described as a "handbook of the religious, social, fraternal and other activities of the negroes of Nashville." It had been compiled primarily by Whittier H. Wright with help from Dock A. Hart, the editor of the African American Nashville Globe newspaper.

I have not been able to locate a copy of the Directory, but it appears to have been the first  - only? - Nashville City directory focused solely on the African American community.  It also appears to have operated as a precursor to the Green Book in that it included "A complete index ...given for the benefit of the traveler."

The Directory compiled the listings and described how the 40,000 African Americans in Nashville at the time owned assets worth over $5 million with over $2 million in the banks.  About 19  "negroes [were] estimated to be worth $100,000."

According to newspaper accounts describing the Directory's listings, the black population of the city at the time controlled:
Additionally, the Directory included listings for many professionals working in Nashville, including
  • 2 architects
  • 9 attorneys 
  • over 40 physicians 
  • 28 blacksmiths
  • 5 contracting paperhangers
  • 7 contracting painters 
  • 17 coal merchants 
  • 5 real estate brokers 
  • 16 shoemakers 
  • 3 furniture dealers 
  • 2 jewelers 
  • 1 junk dealer 
  • 10 notaries public
  • many 
    • grocers
    • tailors
    • hair culturists
    • graduate nurses
    • expressmen
    • dressmakers
    •  bootblacks 
    • barbers
    • music teachers
    • meat dealers
Three black bishops lived in Nashville - the bishops of the AME Church, the Colored ME Church, and the African Bishop of the ME Church.
  • There were also many African American churches in Nashville:
    • 35 Missionary Baptist
    • 3 Primitive Baptist
    • 16 AME
    • 7 Methodist Episcopal
    • 3 Methodist Episcopal
    • 3 Congregational
    • 1 Catholic
    • 3 Episcopal
    • 3 Christian
    • 3 Presbyterian
    • 1 African Methodist Zion
And last, but definitely not least, the black population of Nashville supported "one negro fire engine company."

Nashville Daily American
June 25, 1899
The piece ended by stating, that "Nashville Negroes have gone quite a distance, but still have a great way to travel."

Nashville Tennessean June 6, 1915

When the Directory was originally published, the Tennessean covered it in its column reporting on the "General News of the Colored People."

Nashville Tennessean, May 17, 1914, page 13
Whittier H. Wright, who put the directory together was at the time a student at Meharry Medical College. He had been born in Georgia and was the son of Richard R. Wright, Sr. the President of the Georgia State Industrial College (now Savannah State University). Richard Wright had been appointed the first president of the institution in 1891. When Richard White had been about 12 years old, the abolitionist poet John Greenleaf Whittier wrote a poem about him entitled "Howard at Atlanta." I assume that Richard Wright named his middle son Whittier in honor of the poet.

The Pittsburgh Currier, Sept 27, 1924

In 1898, Georgia State Industrial College awarded its first degree to Whittier Wright's brother Richard R. Wright, Jr., who later became the ninth president of Wilberforce University in Ohio. Whittier Wright went on to success in his own right, with a successful career in medicine in Philadelphia.

Wright was assisted in his work on the Directory by Dock A. Hart, an executive at the Na
shville Globe, the local African American newspaper.