McGavock unveiling 2

Thelma Battle

Two renowned historians will serve as guest speakers at Friday’s monthly Porch Talks hosted by the African American Heritage Society of Williamson County.

Thelma Battle, Williamson County African American historian, and Jo Ann McClellan, the first female African American County historian in Tennessee, will share a number of stories from their research, journey and quest to “Keep History Alive.” 

Porch Talks will begin at 11 a.m. at the American Legion Post 215 Headquarters at 510 11th Ave. N., three doors north of the McLemore House Museum in the historic Hard Bargain neighborhood. The talks, held the first Friday of each month, will continue at that location through November.

Later Friday evening, from 5-8, the AAHS and Moe Better BBQ & Fish will host First Fridays at the McLemore House.

Guests are encouraged to come for a free museum tour and to enjoy food prepared by Moe Better BBQ and Fish, feature barbecue, fish, brisket and much more. There will be music by DJ Train, and also a special art opportunity for the kids.

The AAHS says it is grateful to Julian and Jane Bibb for the opportunity to feature this month’s First Friday Event artwork. The amazing artwork and artistic talent of the late Joseph Philip Dzuback Bibb will be presented and displayed in memory and in honor of Joseph, who loved and supported African American History and Culture in many of his works. 

Putting a focus on grassroots research

Thelma Battle is a historian of local African American History, an author and genealogist. She is a co-founder of the African American Heritage Society of Williamson County and is a board member emeritus. 

Battle is also a co-founder of the McLemore House Museum and was a co-founder of Natchez Place with the late Alderman Pearl Bransford. The Thelma Battle Collection housed in the main branch of the Williamson County Library consists of historical information compiled by Battle over her lifetime. She has conducted grassroots research on earlier African American families of Franklin, consisting of historical information compiled by Battle over her lifetime. 

She has conducted grassroots research on earlier African American families of Williamson County. Battle specializes in genealogical research as a means of promoting unity among a community and as a healing process to those whose families were split during slavery. 

This material has generated public awareness and appreciation of African American History. For Black History Month, February, the Williamson County Public Library sponsors an annual “Thelma Battle Historical Photograph exhibit of African Americans of Williamson County." Battle has combed the communities of Williamson County and surrounding counties to gather family photographs for these exhibits. A Franklin native, Battle has devoted her life to capturing the untold history and customs of her people in words and photographs.

In fact, it is a passion. She has written 10 books on African American history, culture and people and places of Williamson County. She is a 1999 graduate of Leadership Franklin and a recipient of the prestigious Tennessee Historical Commission Historian award and has received many other accolades and honors. 

Her work in this field has awarded her a permanent plaque of recognition in the genealogy room of the Williamson County Library in Franklin. Battle currently lives in Franklin.

Leadership leads to several awards, recognitions

Jo Ann Williams McClellan, president of the African American Heritage Society of Maury County, started her professional career as a computer programmer after receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics from Tennessee State University. 

After working more than 30 years in Information Systems for various Fortune 500 companies, she discovered that her real passion was genealogy and the study of African American history.    

In 2002, she became actively involved with the Genealogical Society of Maury County, serving as vice president, and president for two terms. In addition, she served on the boards of the Maury County Historical Society, Columbia Arts Council and the Maury County Senior Center  

It was the search for the name of her paternal great-great-grandmothers that motivated her to research and transcribe the African American cemeteries of Maury County and publish the book Gone But Not Forgotten: African American Cemeteries and 1908-1930 Death Records in 2009.

In 2012, inspired by her passion for history and the need to preserve the African American heritage and history of Maury County, McClellan founded the African American Heritage Society of Maury County, a 501©3 nonprofit organization that has primarily focused on historical markers, memorials and raising the community’s consciousness regarding the heritage and history of African Americans through a quarterly lecture series, exhibits and the Maury County African American History calendars.  

During her leadership, the Society has received the Historic Preservation New Organization Award (2012 ), Organization Past Year Award (2015 ), and Organization Award (2020) for placing historical markers from the Maury County Historical Society; the Outstanding Community Service and Support for Education from Columbia State Community College/Access & Diversity Department; and the 2016 Tennessee Historical Commission Certificate of Merit. 

In February 2020, the Maury County Commission named McClellan the next Maury County historian. She is currently living is Santa Fe with her husband, Howard. They have one son, Brian, and two grandchildren, Marcus and Giana.