FRANKLIN, Tenn. (WKRN) – The best lessons are often learned listening. That’s the case sitting across from Alma McLemore who makes you feel right at home in her hometown. “I got a lot of stuff I can share with you. I’m a Franklin native. Born and raised here. Not planning to go anywhere,” said McLemore.
Time has transformed her beloved downtown strip, but hidden in the historic bricks are her memories. “When I was a little bitty girl, I remember going down to the courthouse and they had a white bathroom and a colored bathroom.”
Seemingly unfazed by the topic of race, Ms. McLemore’s accustomed to the color of her skin playing a prominent part of the conversation. “I went to school at Johnson Elementary right across the street. It was an all colored school.”
Reminiscing, McLemore comfortably swings on the front porch of a house, that even after 140 years, stands as a literal example of a foundational promise.
“Harvey McLemore. He was an enslaved person,” Alma explained.
Harvey was owned by prominent lawyer and judge, W.S. McLemore until the Emancipation Proclamation. In 1880, W.S. sold his former slave four lots just steps from downtown Franklin for $400. Harvey harvested crops, and paid in installments, eventually building a free man’s dream. The first residential dwelling in what would become the town’s first Black middle-class neighborhood.
“Think about that. To persevere and build something that I now, and you now, can touch,” McLemore said while sitting on the home’s front porch.
Many in town wouldn’t recognize this relic, while in comparison, just blocks away the sky-high monument dedicated to Confederate soldiers is synonymous with the town square. McLemore admits she never thought about it until recently. “It didn’t affect me. But it has affected other people in different ways.”
As President of the African American Heritage Society, McLemore desires differences to spark smart discussion. “If the statue goes down, people are going to be angry. If it stays up, people are going to be angry.” So she has a suggestion, “I want to see hearts change. We need to figure out how to collaborate, and come together, for the best solution.”
Some would expect McLemore, who bares the ex-slave owner’s name, to harbor animosity. Instead, she chooses to tell Harvey’s story and celebrate his great-great-great-granddaughter now principal at the once-segregated school Alma attended. She believes when people know the stories of discrimination turned determination, it will help fill missing pieces of a puzzle that completes the entire picture of the past. Not as black and white but as red, white, and blue.
“I think all races want to be a part of the change. So the people who don’t want to change I feel bad, but they need to get on board,” said McLemore.
To learn more about the McLemore House, or to donate to the restoration, click here.
Recent social unrest has renewed debate over Confederate monuments and if they represent history versus hate. News 2 digs deeper into how Tennessee is coping with its Confederate past, present, and future. Read more on Monuments & Middle Ground here.