Search This Blog

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

It is Time to Revise Williamson County's Official Seal

On today's date, 1968, Judge Fulton Greer accepted the current (and first and only) version of Williamson County's official seal at the July 15, 1968, Quarterly Court Term.


Wiliamson County Seal

According to the County's website, "The upper left section depicts a flag and cannon, which symbolizes the rich history in the county."  It hardly needs pointing out that the seal does not merely contain "a flag." It is the Confederate flag - It is not the flag of the United States nor the flag of the state of Tennessee.  Using this particular flag only reflects one part of our rich history - it leaves out the men who fought for the Union during the Civil War - white and black; it omits the history of Williamson County's native sons who fought to preserve this country. 

This has to change. It is shameful that we as a community are choosing to elevate one flag - to celebrate the values celebrated by this flag - and it is NOT the flag of our own country.  

It is also worth recognizing that this version of the "Confederate flag" represented on our official County seal was originally the battle flag of Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia.  Later, that flag came to be seen as a national symbol of the Confederacy and was eventually co-opted by many associated with racial violence. 

Those of you who have read my blog before know that I think it is always important to understand the context in which events occur.  Nothing happens in a vacuum.  Here is a brief timeline of national and local events that I believe are meaningful to understanding the significance behind the time period when the Confederate flag was the sole flag chosen to represent Williamson County's history.

May 1954. US Supreme Court unanimously passes the Brown vs. Board of Education decision ending racial segregation in public schools and knocking down the doctrine of "separate but equal."

September 1957.  Black families in Nashville were harassed and threatened on their first day of school as their first graders desegregated public schools. That night, one of the schools was bombed.

Nashville_Banner_Mon__Sep_9__1957

The_Knoxville_News_Sentinel_Mon__Sep_9__1957


That same month in Little Rock, Arkansas the Governor called in State Guardsmen to prevent nine high school students from attending school there. Later that month, President Eisenhower sent federal troops to the school to prevent the state guard from stopping the students from attending high school.




Spring 1960 Sit-ins held by college students in Nashville cafeterias and stores to protest their segregation policies.


Agitators attack a sit-in demonstrator at Woolworth's lunch counter, February 27, 1960.
Part of the Nashville Banner Collection at Nashville Public Library.



Summer 1961. The state began a several years' long 100th-anniversary commemoration of the Civil War that was heavy on the Lost Cause and Confederate symbolism, including a parade around the state Capitol by three Confederate cavalry regiments - one of which was made up of young boys on ponies making up the Kavalry Kadet Korps [i.e., KKK] of Savannah, Tenn.

The_Tennessean_Tue__May_9__1961


August 1961. Seven years after the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, public schools in Williamson County were still segregated and a group of citizens in Franklin filed a formal request of the School Board for action to be taken. They also pushed for greater representation of African Americans on jury duty and in leadership positions in city and county government. At the time, Williamson County's population was about 25,000 people - about one-third of whom were Black.

Nashville_Banner_Wed__Oct_11__1961


Nashville_Banner_Thu__Oct_26__1961


Fall 1962.  Franklin Special School District desegregated using a "grade a year" voluntary plan - starting with first grade. This meant that Black families had to volunteer to send their six-year-olds to all-white schools.  Two families sent daughters to the all-white Franklin Elementary School that year.  The desegregation plan did not apply to Williamson County schools or to the high school in Franklin.

Nashville_Banner_Wed__Sep_5__1962



August 1963. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr gave his "I Have a Dream" speech during the Civil Rights March in Washington DC

July 1964. President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act.

November 1964 - Franklin held a commemoration of the Battle of Franklin and the Confederate Monument was rededicated.

The_Tennessean_Sun__Nov_29__1964


The_Tennessean_Tue__Dec_1__1964
  

October 1966 - US Department of Education was withholding federal funds for the Franklin Special School District due to failure to adequately comply with desegregation orders.

Fall 1967 - Williamson County School Board desegregated Franklin High School and the formerly all-black Natchez High School briefly became an "annex" to FHS. No attempt was made by the County to archive or save the trophies or artifacts important to Natchez High School, which had a thriving football team, marching band, and other extracurricular programs important to the Black community. Following the desegregation of public schools, several private schools formed in the area in reaction to this change.

The_Tennessean_Fri__Jan_13__1967


April 1968. The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr in Memphis, Tennessee

July 1968 Judge Fulton Greer accepted the current (and first and only) version of Williamson County's official seal at the July 15, 1968, Quarterly Court Term

November 1968 - Williamson County voters went for George Wallace in that year's Presidential election.  Wallace was running as the far-right American Independent party candidate and was a staunch segregationist. 

George Wallace campaigning in front of the Confederate flag


Clearly, during the years leading to the adoption of the Williamson County seal, historical memories of the Civil War, the Confederacy, and the Lost Cause had become intertwined with opinions about racial segregation for many. That may not have been the motivating factor behind the adoption of the flag on Williamson County's seal. However, regardless of the rationale, it is no longer appropriate - and never was - to only honor the flag of the Confederacy while the American flag was left off of the official County seal.

It is also worth noting that in 1968, America was embroiled in the Vietnam War.  Men from Williamson County were fighting across the world under that flag.  Several young Black men came home in body bags - including Pvt. Richard Carothers (killed in 1966 and a graduate of Natchez High School), Pvt. James Andrew Cunningham (killed in Vietnam in 1967, a 1964 Natchez High School graduate), Pvt Charles Herbert Hardison (died in Vietnam in 1968, enlisted when still a student at Natchez High School), and Spc John Willie Woods Jr (killed in Vietnam in 1966 and captain of the Natchez High School football team his senior year). 

This week, the Williamson County Commission (the modern version of the County
 Court that adopted the seal in 1968) voted to form a task force to determine whether or not there is “substantial need” to alter the Williamson County seal. The resolution calls for the nine-member task force to receive public input, determine whether there is a need to alter the seal, and study the various community impacts of such an alteration, reporting this information to the commission in September. The following representatives would comprise the task force:
County Mayor Rogers Anderson will form the task force, which will present its determination concerning the county seal to the commission at its meeting on Monday, Sept. 14.

Should the task force and the commission decide the seal should change, the County's resolution includes a clause finding that it meets the definition of a "memorial" requiring the consent of the 
Tennessee Historical Commission to be changed.  This is the same authority that governs the removal of Confederate monuments like Franklin's Confederate Monument. Therefore, a request would go before that body, where it would need two-thirds approval before a final decision could be made by the Williamson County commission.




Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Nancy Perkins Gardner: 1855-1944 - "I will be with you always!"

Nancy Gardner was born in Franklin in Williamson County, TN. She was interviewed in the 1930s as part of a program run by the federal government WPA's Federal Writers Project that hired writers to interview former slaves. Interviewers, both white and African American, traveled seventeen states interviewing about 2,500 people and took 500 photographs. The interviews were organized by state and published in 1941 as the Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States. Many of the WPA interviewers attempted to transcribe the dialect in which interviewees spoke - which can make reading them sometimes difficult. 

I have tried to track down all the slave narratives of people with ties to Williamson County and have compiled them in this blog post.

Below is the interview with Nancy Gardner along with my comments.  She was about 79 years old when she was interviewed and living in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  

************************************
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Well, to tell you the truth I don't know my age, but I was born in 1858, in Franklin, Tennessee. Now, you can figure for yourself and tell how old I am.

[Based on later records, I actually think Nancy was born a little earlier - at least by 1853.]
 
I am the daughter of Prophet and Callie Isaiah, and they were natives of Tennessee. There was three of us children, two boys and myself. I'm the only girl. My brothers names was Prophet and Billie Isaiah. 

I can't tell you much 'bout work during the slave days because you see I was just a baby you might say when the War broke out. I do remember our Master's name though, it was Dr. Perkins, and he was a good Master. 

[I believe that Nancy was enslaved by Dr. Peter Augustus Perkins and his family.  He was born in Franklin, Williamson County in 1817. His parents were Nicholas "Bigbee" Perkins and Mary Hardin Perkins, one of the wealthiest couples and largest slaveholders in Williamson County. 

Nicholas "Bigbee" Perkins II (1745-1848)

Mary Harden Perkins (1794-1840)
Portrait from Tennessee Library & Archives

Dr. Perkins grew up in the Forest Home area of Williamson County. By 1850 he was enslaving 67 people; in 1860 he was enslaving 68 people. 
A portion of Indenture from Dr. Peter A. Perkins to his brother William O'Neil Perkins
Listing the enslaved people he was selling for $5 in order to assure his brother would care for his wife and children following his death. Listed were Nancy and her parents Prophet (Proffit), Callie (Caledonia), Prophet Jr, and perhaps her youngest brother Willie (Babe).

In 1862, Dr. Perkins entered into an agreement to sell 41 people to his brother William O'Neil Perkins.  W O'N Perkins was a successful attorney and former County Commissioner of Williamson County. Following the Civil War he would serve as Tennessee's Speaker of the House. In the sale agreement between the brothers, the people to be sold were listed and the list included "Proffit, Caledonia, Proffit Jr., Nancy and Babe." I believe this was Nancy's family - who she described as Prophet, Callie, Prophet Jr, and perhaps Babe was her youngest brother Willie. I think that William O'Neil Perkins had them taken from Dr. Perkins to Memphis where they were sold.]

Ma and pa sure hated to have to leave him, he was so good to dem. He was a rich man, and had a big fine house and thousands of acres of land. He was good to his n*****s too. We had a good house too, better dan some of dese houses I see folks living in now. Course Dr. Perkins n****** had to work, but dey didn't mind 'cause he would let dem have little patches of dey own such as 'tatoes, corn, cotton and garden. Jest a little, you know. He couldn't let dem have much, there was so many on Dr. Perkins plantation. I don't remember seeing anybody sick in slavery time. You see I was just a kid and there's a lot of things I can't remember.

"I don't 'member much about them [her brothers and father]  as we was separated when I was seven years old.

I'll never forget when me, my ma and my auntie had to leave my pa and brothers. It is just as clear in my mind now as it was then, and that's been about seventy years ago.

Oh God! I tell you it was awful that day when old Jeff Davis had a bunch of us sent to Memphis to be sold."

This ad was placed by a woman looking for her three children who had been sold in Memphis. 
I think it describes a little bit of what Nancy must have gone through being separated from her father and brothers that awful day in Memphis.

 

[I have seen a few references to Jefferson Davis selling enslaved people or interacting with them.  I wonder if his name came to represent any slave trader - like Nathan Bedford Forrest - who it is much more likely that Nancy would have come into contact with in Memphis. However, she was living in Montgomery, Alabama after the War - the original capitol of Jefferson Davis' Confederacy, so it is possible that she was around him there.]

I can see old Major Clifton now. He was a big n***** trader you know. Well, they took us on up there to Memphis and we was sold just like cattle. They sold me and ma together and they sold pa and the boys together. They was sent to Mississippi and we was sent to Alabama. My pa, oh how my ma was grieved to death about him! She didn't live long after that. She didn't live long enough to be set free. Poor ma, she died a slave, but she is saved though. I know she is, and I'll be with her some day.

I knowed old Jeff Davis good. Why I was jest as close to him as I am to dat table. I've talked with him too. I reckon I do know dat scoundrel! Why, he didn't want de n****** to be free! He was known as a mean old rascal all over de South.

Abraham Lincoln? Now you is talking 'bout the n****** friend! Why dat was de best man God ever let tramp de earth! Everybody was mighty sad when poor old Abraham was assassinated, 'cause he did a mighty good deed for the colored race before he left this world.

I wasn't here long during slavery, but I saw enough of it to know it was mighty hard going for most of de n****** den, and young folks wouldn't stand for dat kind of treatment now. I know most of the young folks would be killed, but they jest wouldn't stand for it. I would hate to have to go through wid my little share of it again."

I have not determined how or when Nancy was able to claim her freedom, but she seems to have settled in Montgomery, Alabama. On Christmas Day1869, Nancy Perkins married Bailey Gardner in Mongomery, Alabama. Bailey was a hack driver - he drove a horse and carriage giving rides to people around town for a fare.  They appear to have lived a comfortable life. In the 1880s, Bailey's mother lived with them in a home they owned. Nancy worked as a washerwoman and her mother-in-law was a seamstress. 

1880 Federal Census, Montgomery, Alabama


"It was thirty years before my pa knew if we was still living. Finally in some way he heard that I was still alive, and he began writing me. Course I was grown and married then and me and my husband had moved to Missouri. Well, my pa started out to see me and on his way he was drowned in the Missouri River, and I never saw him alive after we was sold in Memphis."

[I have not been able to find any references to Nancy living in Missouri - perhaps she meant Mongomery? But around this time, she did reunite with family living in Guthrie, Oklahoma.  In 1904 she visited her cousin, Cornelius H. Bradley.  I cannot imagine what that must have been like for her.  She had last seen her father and brothers in a slave pen when she was a child.  Her mother had died soon afterward.  But here she was, reuniting with living relatives.  What a joyous time that must have been for her.  

Nancy's cousin had grown up nearby on the extensive Perkins plantations. He was the son of Wallace Bradley (b. 1826) and Margaret Green of Williamson County. Wallace Bradley was enslaved by Nicholas Bigbee Perkins - the father of Dr. Peter Perkins and William O'Neil Perkins. When Nicholas Bigbee Perkins died in 1848, he left his daughter Margaret Perkins Bradley (sister to Dr. Perkins and W O'N Perkins) 40 enslaved people. Named was Wallace -- Cornelius’s father.
Portion of Will of Nicholas Bigbee Perkins
Williamson County, Tennessee 1848

In the 1870 Census, Wallace Bradley's family was counted living on or near the former plantation of Nicholas Bigbee Perkins' son Nicholas Edwin Perkins. Cornelius was 16 years old.
1870 Federal Census
Williamson County, Tennessee, District 6

Wallace's son Cornelius married his wife Elizabeth Ridley in Williamson County in 1877.  Cornelius, Elizabeth, and their son O'Neil (named after the former enslaver?) moved to Kansas and later to Oklahoma where Nancy visited them.  Their participation in the Exoduster movement followed the path that so many African Americans from Williamson County took - read more here about this migration. In 1904 trip the visit was reported on in the local newspaper, the Guthrie Progress.]


The Guthrie Progress - 23 Jul 1904 - Page 3


The Guthrie Progress was published by
O'Neil Bradley, the son of Nancy's cousin.


[It was no coincidence that the paper reported on the reunion. At the time of the visit, Cornelius'  son O'Neil was the publisher of the Guthrie Progress newspaper. It was common for formerly enslaved people to publish newspaper ads looking for long-lost family.  Since O'Neil was in the publishing business, it makes me wonder if that contributed to the family finding each other again.  (You can find my collection of these types of ads for people from Williamson County here.)  Sadly, the year after her visit, Nancy's cousin Cornelius died.


O'Niel Herman “O.H.” Bradley
O'Niel Herman Bradley
Son of Nancy's cousin

In 1911, Nancy's husband Bailey also died and she sold his horses and equipment by placing an ad in the local Montgomery, Alabama newspaper. 


Soon after, she returned for another visit with her cousin's family in Oklahoma. In this newspaper clipping, we learn that not only did Nancy have a cousin living in Oklahoma, but she also had an uncle there. 

Judge George Napier Perkins
Nancy Perkins Gardner's uncle
Photograph, Oklahoma Historical Society


Nancy and Cornelius had an uncle Judge George Napier Perkins. He was an extraordinary man and I will write more about him and the family in a future blog post. Once again, I have to say how wonderful and remarkable it must have been for Nancy to be surrounded by family - and such a successful one. Her cousin's son O'Neil had been elected as the town's Justice of the Peace since her last visit. During her visit, she may have visited other Williamson Countians living in Dover, Oklahoma such as Green Currin's family (see my blog post about him here).

The_Oklahoma_Guide_Thu__Oct_3__1912

Sadly, during this trip to visit family in Oklahoma, the house that Nancy and her husband Bailey Gardner had worked so hard for was burned down in an arson. 


Montgomery (Al) Times, Oct 10, 1912

After the fire, Nancy moved to Oklahoma to be closer to her family following the loss of her home and her husband. She seems to have remained close to Cornelius' widow and son O. H. Bradley. By that time, O. H. Bradley was an undertaker and publisher and editor of the Boley Progress, a newspaper for African Americans in the all-Black town of Boley, Oklahoma. O.H. Bradley was even the mayor of Boley in the 1930s.






Video about the history of Boley, Oklahoma

By 1916, Nancy Perkins Gardner moved to Oklahoma City where she worked as a cook - and where she was interviewed about 20 years later when she was in her mid-70s. 

1932 Oklahoma City Directory
Listing for Nancy Gardner, widow of Bailey
She was living at 501 Missouri Avenue


I am fairly certain that Nancy died in 1944. There is a plot in Block 29, Lot 79 of the Summit View Cemetery in Guthrie, Oklahoma that I believe is hers. Her cousin Cornelius was buried in the adjacent plot- Block 29, Lot 81 in 1904. When his wife Elizabeth died in 1944 and son O'Neill died in 1948 they were buried there as well. Her Uncle Judge Perkins and his wife are buried in a nearby section (Section 2, block 5).  (Full cemetery map here.)

A portion of Summit View Cemetery map showing locations of Judge George Perkins burial (far left) and suspected burial of Nancy Perkins Gardner and Bradley cousins (upper right)


Nancy Perkins Gardner does not appear to have left any descendants. But her life and her legacy live on through this interview. 

Her description of her faith is one of the most beautiful I have ever read.

I joined the church nigh on seventy years ago and when I say dat, I don't mean I just joined the church. 

I mean I gave myself up to the Heavenly Father, and I've been goine straight down the line for Him ever since do now,

You know in those days, we didn't get religion like young folks. Young folks today just find the church and then call theyselves Christians, but they ain't. 
 
I remember just as well when I was converted.  One day I was thinking about a sermon the preacher had preached and a voice spoke to me and said,"The Holy Ghost is over your head.  Accept it!"  Right then I got down on my knees and prayed to God that I might understand that voice, and God Almighty in a vision told me that I should find the church.  I could hardly wait for the next service so I could find it, and when I was in the water getting my baptisement, that same voice spoke and said, "Now you have accepted don't turn back because I will be with you always!" O you don't know nothing about thatat kind of religion!
 
I remember one night shortly after I joined the church I was laying in bed and there was a vine tied 'round my waist and that vine extended into the elements. I could see my Divine Master and he spoke to me and said, "When you get in trouble shake this vine; I am your Master and I will hear your cry."