A three-day celebration was held in Franklin, Tennessee this past weekend to commemorate the African-American soldiers who fought in the Civil War. The statue, made by Tennessee artist Joe F. Howard, was officially unveiled Saturday in front of Franklin’s Historic Courthouse.
The new work sits across from the ‘Our Confederate Soldiers’ statue, put in place by the Franklin Chapter No. 14 of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1899. The iconic confederate statue, also known as ‘Chip,’ towers over downtown Franklin atop a 37 ft. base. The new sculpture, named “March to Freedom,” has a smaller base, which brings the viewers closer to the depiction of the Civil War soldier.
“We didn’t want him on a pedestal 20 feet in the air,” Pastor Chris Williamson of Strong Tower Bible Church told the crowd who gathered to see the unveiling. “We wanted him down on our level, where you could see him. … Above all, you could see his personhood.”
The bronze statue shows an African-American soldier, with one foot on a tree stump and a rifle resting across his knee. Underneath him are broken shackles and on his face is a set and determined expression as he looks across to ‘Chip.’
Sculptor Joe Howard explained in an interview with The Paris Post-Intelligencer, “His foot on the stump of the tree of sorrow is to say that this will be no more. There are broken shackles connected to the stump, never to be used again. No men will ever be put in chains and sold like animals again.”
The statue’s debut was the last part of the three-day celebration that began on Thursday with a theatrical performance “Telling the Story of The Fuller Story,” from Hewitt Sawyers, Eric Jacobson, Kevin Riggs, and Chris Williamson.
On the second day, attendees were invited to wear their best suit or clothing for “An Elegant Evening with The Fuller Story.” Dinner was catered and entertainment was provided by live music by Jason Eskridge and dancing to the music of Nioshi Jackson & The Heroes.
During the statue’s unveiling Saturday morning, Pastor Chris Williamson spoke about what “March to Freedom” stood for:
This statue represents the nearly 200,000 men who bravely fought for our country, for their freedom and for the freedom of 4 million enslaved people in our country. This statue means hope, it means courage, it means possibility, it means dignity, it means valor. As Pastor Sawyers said, it means a new day.”
Other speakers at the event included The Fuller Story, Mayor Ken Moore, City Administrator Eric Stuckey, Alderman Dana McLendon, and sculptor Joe F. Howard. A live musical performance by the African American ensemble “Kettle Praise” was also at the event, and they sang “Ride on, King Jesus. No man no can hinder thee” as the statue was unveiled.
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