9 Historic African American Sites To Visit In Franklin, Tennessee
Visitors come to Franklin from far and wide to experience landmarks like the Civil War Museum, Carnton, the Lotz House, and Fort Granger.
However, Franklin’s rich historical tapestry isn’t complete without the accomplishments, stories, businesses, and significant contributions of our town’s African American citizens, whose history is our history.
Both freed and enslaved, these men, women, and children made up more than half of Franklin’s population before the Civil War.
When the war erupted, nearly 300 African-American men in Williamson County joined the fight for the Union as part of the United States Colored Troops (USCT), a group of 179,000 men dedicated to fighting for their own freedom.
Following the war, Franklin was faced with racial conflict the city didn’t know how to handle. Progress toward basic human rights for the African American community was slow.
Though Jim Crow laws and prejudice stood in their way, the black community persevered with courage—opening businesses, running farms, practicing trades, getting educated, building families, and planting roots.
Kristi Farrow, Director of African American History for the Battle of Franklin Trust, works to educate visitors on the impact of slavery in Williamson County and the importance of lifting African American voices to tell the whole story.
“History is more interesting and quite frankly more impactful when it is more comprehensive of all human perspectives,” Kristi says. “The African American perspective has been left out—not forgotten, not erased. Telling a fuller story is something Franklin, as a community, has become committed to.”
These nine spots around Franklin are worth the history lesson. Some served as valuable social connectors, while others are a stark reminder of injustices committed toward our neighbors.
446 11th Ave. N
The McLemore House sits right next to a sign for the Hard Bargain neighborhood, a fitting location for the Williamson County African American Heritage Society.
Judge W.S. McLemore had purchased the land in 1873, and—less than ten years later—a newly freed Harvey McLemore purchased four lots. Though he was sold to Judge McLemore as a “slave for life” back in 1859, Harvey literally built a new life for himself and his family with one of the first homes in the area.
“That home became a foundation for both his family and the Hard Bargain neighborhood,” Kristi says. Hard Bargain grew into something Franklin hadn’t seen before: a community of black middle-class families including teachers, farmers (like Harvey), masons, and carpenters.
“The McLemore House represents survival, freedom, and achievement of not just Harvey, but his entire family,” she shares. “It’s one of the few places in [the area] where a visitor can go to understand the African American journey in Franklin—from slavery to freedom, to civil rights.”
The home stayed in the McLemore family for a remarkable 117 years, until it was purchased in 1997 for the purpose of housing a museum honoring and preserving African American history in Williamson County. In 1999, the house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Learn more about the home and book a tour here.
Touissant L’Ouverture Cemetery
820 Del Rio Pike
Touissant L’Ouverture Cemetery is one of the most overlooked historic sites in Franklin, Kristi shares. “In my opinion, it’s one of the most powerful reminders that, with the 13th amendment, humanity was bestowed upon an entire race of people.”
Located in the Hard Bargain neighborhood, these four acres of land were purchased in 1884 by a group of 44 African American residents who wanted a burial ground for those of African descent.
The resulting Touissant L’Ouverture Cemetery humanized many slaves and families who would have otherwise been buried in unmarked graves—the norm for nearly 300 years.
Named after Haitian Revolution leader and former slave François-Dominique Toussaint L’Ouverture, this nationally-recognized cemetery is the resting place of many prominent African Americans who lived in Williamson County, including A.N.C. Williams, former Carnton slave Mariah Reddick, three U.S. Colored Troops veterans, and Dr. C.C. Johnson.
At its purchase, the land lay adjacent to Mount Hope, an all-white cemetery. A row of white pine trees divides the two burial grounds.
[pictured: A.N.C. Williams with sons Fred D. and Ostranda, ca. 1919]
A.N.C. Williams’ Store
428 W. Main Street
If you’ve ever strolled down Franklin’s picturesque Main Street, you’ve likely walked by A.N.C. William’s general store—now occupied by Avec Moi. With the ratification of the 14th (1868) and 15th (1870) amendments, African American citizens were finally given citizenship and voting rights. Allen Nelson Crutcher Williams, who had been born into slavery in Spring Hill, built a legacy right on Main Street.
A brilliant, literate entrepreneur, A.N.C. had opened his first business, a shoe repair shop, right on the square while still enslaved. In 1870, as a free man, A.N.C. built and opened up a general store that served both black and white customers—a rarity with Jim Crow laws in place.
He operated his store for 64 years, finally retiring in 1928 with the title of “oldest operating merchant on Main Street.”
In addition to his mind for business, A.N.C. was also a man of faith, founding Cummins Street Church of Christ in 1877 for other former slaves. He was a prominent leader and advocate for the African American community.
The Green House
202 Church Street
At the corner of Cameron and Church Street, a short walk down from the parking garage on 2nd Avenue, visitors will find Lot 60. In 1867, the plot was purchased by a reverend in Nashville, who split it in two and sold the southern half to A.N.C. Williams.
In 1906, A.N.C. sold the property for $500 to William Munch and Docia Owen House, who built an iconic pale-green home—the oldest African American-built house still standing in Franklin. As the community built up around the Houses’ property, their home was a popular social spot.
The family and the Green House grew in popularity with the origin of the Patent Leather Kids, a jazz band that included two of the House children.
The Green House stayed in the family for over 90 years and welcomed many visitors, including African American musicians, Pullman porters, and preachers. It was saved from demolition by local preservationists in 2001.
Wiley Memorial Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church
112 Second Ave. South
The northern side of Lot 60 was designated for the construction of an institution that would serve as both church and school to newly freed slaves—the first of its kind in Franklin. In 1868, missionaries helped build Wiley Memorial Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church at 112 Second Ave. South.
The church was named for Rev. Dr. Isaac William Wiley, the Methodist Episcopal bishop, who passed away in 1884. A stone’s throw from the Green House, the episcopal church served its neighborhood well in faith and community until closing its doors in 1945 due to declining membership.
The building changed hands several times until Franklin’s local community theatre group, Pull-Tight Players, took over in 1985.
The Slaves’ Quarters at Carter House
1140 Columbia Ave.
Carter House, an unassuming brick home built by Fountain Branch Carter in 1830, is one of Franklin’s well-known historic attractions for its role in the 1864 Battle of Franklin. Fountain was a businessman who saw an opportunity to expand his 19 acres of land into 285 for farming.
With the 1793 invention of the cotton gin came an increase in cotton production. The number of slaves in Williamson County grew dramatically, outnumbering the free population. By 1860, the Carter family had 28 slaves living on their property—12 of whom were under the age of 10—in seven small cabins.
Although none of the original cabins have survived, a slave cabin was brought to the house from nearby Natchez in the mid-1900s to save it from demolition. “It is an excellent representation of size and materials for a Middle Tennessee cabin,” says Kristi. “In addition to living quarters, Carter House also has an original kitchen structure and smokehouse—both visual examples of where slaves would have labored on the farm.” Learn more about the enslaved at Carter House and plan your visit to the home.
Old Courthouse & Public Square
Franklin’s beautiful Public Square has held some dark atrocities. Pre-Civil War, this square was used as a market to sell men, women, and children as slaves.
In the courtyard, punishments from the courthouse were carried out for the world to see, including whippings and brandings. A black man was lynched by the KKK from the balcony. Though fighting an uphill battle against hatred, community leaders like A.N.C. Williams sought to bring unity.
After the war, in July 1867, a riot broke out at the square. Franklin’s Colored Union League decided to march in protest following speeches from political candidates among a white audience of former Confederates.
Shots were fired from both sides, killing one and injuring dozens of others. A.N.C.—a preacher in addition to a businessman—played a crucial role in resolving the tension.
In 1909, a devastating tornado touched down in Middle Tennessee, tearing its way through the southern edge of Franklin. According to a newspaper clipping from that year: “The Fisk Glee Club sang at the courthouse for the benefit of the storm sufferers, and had a very large audience of colored and white people.”
An audience of both black and white citizens illustrated the resilience of an entire community, Kristi expresses. “This was a distinct difference to earlier tensions that pervaded the square. Franklin has become an example for the country in interpreting history in the town square—both good and bad—and telling a fuller story.”
Natchez Street Neighborhood
The Natchez neighborhood became a vibrant pocket of culture in Franklin. “Neighborhoods like Natchez, Bell Town, and Hard Bargain are such vital reminders of what African Americans were creating for the first time after the Civil War,” Kristi says. “They were building communities.”
Many African American professionals and their families planted roots on Natchez Street, building a diverse network of business owners. These included undertakers, a plumber, bricklayers, a plasterer, barbers, beauticians, taxi services, a tailor, grocers, boardinghouse owners, and restaurateurs.
Before Franklin schools were integrated (which didn’t occur until 14 years after Brown vs. Board of Education) the Natchez neighborhood had Williamson County’s sole high school for black students.
To this day, Natchez Social—a former grocery store, church, and funeral home turned community center operated by Franklin Community Church—continues to educate, connect, and encourage citizens. Take a drive down this historic street to witness the rich culture it still offers our community.
Shorter Chapel African Methodist Episcopal
152 W. Fowlkes Street
In 1873, a growing faith community led to the opening of Shorter Chapel African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church. The church originally stood at the corner of Second Avenue and Church Street, across from the Green House. In 1925, the congregation built a Victorian-inspired facility on the corner of Natchez Street and W. Fowlkes.
To celebrate their new location, congregants paraded through town all the way from Second Avenue to Natchez Street carrying original bricks and windows.
To this day, the church still serves the Natchez community for Sunday school and worship, in addition to their Community Life Center which was built for “reaching, renewing, and rebuilding.”
Next to the Shorter Chapel A.M.E. building, visitors will also see a plaque for Franklin’s Green Book Entry, where resident Ruth Gaylor operated a guest house that was safe and welcoming to African American travelers.
Today, Franklin is dedicated to telling the Fuller Story, with markers around Courthouse Square to denote pieces of Franklin history—the suffering and advancements of African Americans—long overlooked.
On Juneteenth 2021, the Fuller Story project will unveil a full-size statue of a U.S. Colored Troops soldier outside the courthouse—the place where many were processed to join USCT. Learn more about African American history in Franklin by taking this self-guided driving tour or joining the guided Slavery & The Enslaved tour at Carter House and Carnton with the Battle of Franklin Trust.
Historic photos courtesy of Rick Warwick and the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County.