The African American Heritage Society of Williamson County held its 21st annual Black Tie Affair on Saturday evening, its largest fundraiser.

The night was filled with food, music and dancing, and saw the recognition of community members who have worked hard to preserve and promote African American history and contemporary civic engagement throughout the county.

The event drew more than 500 people to Franklin’s Embassy Suites Hotel with the theme of “keeping hope alive,” and was emceed by News Channel 5 reporter Levi Ismail.

The AAHS awarded Big Shakes Hot Chicken and Fish and Pinkerton Transportation with its annual business award, while Annette Lane and Lamont Turner were honored with the civic awards. 

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Julius Fisher and the Genius Band

Anika Exum was recognized with the communication award, Donzaleigh Wantley Phillips with the education award and the Franklin Justice and Equality Coalition was recognized with the organization award.

Elder Roosevelt Conway and Pastor Maurice Johnson were both honored with the religion award and Limestone Baptist Church was awarded the AAHS volunteer award. 

In addition to those honorees, Emily Magid, Calvin and Marilyn Lehew, Jeffrey Caruth, Kenneth Green and the Tennessee Historic Commission were all awarded the AAHS preservation award.

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News Channel 5 reporter Levi Ismail.

The event’s largest honor, the 2022 Pioneer Family Award, was given to Leah Williams, an Ohio educator who has spent the last two years researching and discovering her roots which led her to Williamson County.

Her lineage is traced back to the enslaved people of Ravenswood Mansion, which now is a part of the City of Brentwood’s Marcella Vivrette Smith Park.

“I did not know my fourth great-grandfather, Nelson Wilson Sr., I did not know his mother, Rose, his siblings or his wife, Lucreasey, or their four children, one of whom is my third great-grandfather, Nelson Jr.,” Williams told the crowd. “I did not know him, and I do not know all of the details of his life, but I can imagine what he experienced and endured in his lifetime, and deep in my soul I know he imagined me and all of his descendants living a very different reality than his own.”

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Leah Williams

“When I stood outside the slave cabins at Ravenswood Plantation this week, I listened to the birds sing and I gazed up at the moon and the light of day and I asked God in that moment if Nelson had ever stood there in that same spot and gazed up at that same moon,” Williams continued. “And if he had, what did he think about himself and his world? I wonder what made him lament, what brought him joy, what consumed his dreams at night and his hopes in the morning.

“While I’ll never know the answer to those questions about Nelson, I do know that he persevered along an arduous journey through bondage and into freedom...And for that, I say thank you to Nelson Sr., thank you to Rose, Lucreasey and all of the known and unknown Wilson ancestors who persevered against tremendous odds to push my family and this community forward into a different day, and I hope and pray that all of us in this room have the endurance and awareness to do the same for the next generation.”

The event featured live music by Julius Fisher and the Genius Band.

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AAHS of Williamson County President Alma McLemore.

"It was an amazing night once again," AAHS of Williamson County President Alma McLemore said. "We were so excited about our pioneer family and the Leah Williams story and all of the people we honored. It was our 21st annual event and we are so thankful for all of the people and supporters."

More information about the African American Heritage Society of Williamson County, including upcoming events, can be found here.