tennessee statue black soldier civil war
People view the statue honoring Black enslaved men who enlisted in the U.S. Colored Troops and served in the Civil War after it was unveiled Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, in Franklin, Tenn. Artist Joe Howard was commissioned by The Fuller Story Project in Franklin to create a bronze monument memorializing Black Civil War Union Army soldiers. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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While the United States grapples with its history of racism and white supremacy in the military, one city in Tennessee is honoring the Black soldiers who fought in the Civil War. Last weekend, the city of Franklin unveiled a statue called March to Freedom, recognizing the efforts of the enslaved Black soldiers who fought with the Union army on behalf of their freedom. 

The statue was actually erected directly across from another Civil War-related monument — one that honored Confederate soldiers. The March to Freedom statue, however, recognizes the contributions of Black soldiers who shed blood for their own freedom and for the freedom of their descendants.

One of the leaders promoting the March for Freedom statue is longtime Franklin resident Pastor Hewitt Sawyers, who stated he regularly avoided the area of town which included the confederate statue, named for a soldier called Chip. Older residents even recall events held in town by the Ku Klux Klan, leading to a bitter divide in a town known for its history of honoring Confederate soldiers. 

Statue honors Black soldiers

But the March for Freedom monument is different. Master sculptor Joe Frank Howard noted that the statue includes shackles and a tree stump, symbolizing the lynchings and pain endured by enslaved Black men who eventually fought the war. “These are people that were not classified as human beings. They were cattle or some type of work animals. And for these men, to sometimes escape from plantations to be able to fight this war so that their people can be free, that march for freedom was the first march that led to Montgomery or any other type of march that has been for our freedom.”

The project that brought the March to Freedom monument is part of a movement called the Fuller Story project, which endeavors to bring to light the truth about American history through an unapologetic focus on Black citizens. The March to Freedom statue is one of just a handful of monuments dedicated to the roughly 179,000 Black soldiers who fought for their own freedom in the Civil War. 

And it makes a difference to residents today. According to Rochelle Wright, an educator and Franklin citizen who attended the statue’s unveiling, “[For] Something like this to happen gives hope to the future.”

Erika Stone is a graduate student in the Master of Social Work program at the University of Oklahoma, and a graduate assistant at Schusterman Library. A Chess Memorial Scholar, she has a B.A. in Psychology...