“I’ve never seen it like this before, and I’ve been raised in Franklin all my life.”
Lifelong Franklin resident Sherry Easley was stunned Thursday evening after seeing hundreds of people pour out to the Franklin Square for the “End White Silence” rally.
Organized by Franklin resident Betsy Burnham, the rally was aimed at showing solidarity with the black community in response to the death of George Floyd.
Floyd was killed on Memorial Day by Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis police officer who pinned Floyd's neck down with his knee for nearly nine minutes while detaining him, despite multiple cries from Floyd that he could not breathe.
Huddled in the center of downtown Franklin near the Confederate Monument, also known as “Chip,” the hundreds of participants held their signs towards passing motorists, starting chants such as “black lives matter” and “hands up, don’t shoot.”
At one point, participants laid on the ground face-down in a pose reminiscent of Floyd’s final moments. Participants would hold that pose for exactly eight minutes and 46 seconds - the same amount of time Floyd had had his neck pinned to the ground by the officer’s knee.
“This is a part of my history - and everyone's history, regardless of whether they choose to acknowledge that or not,” said Columbia resident Diamond Alford. Over a megaphone, Alford could be heard reciting the names of other members of the black community that had been killed by police while unarmed, such as Eric Garner, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.
“My dad was born in 1951," Alford said. "We're going through this again, and the fact that now I'm a part of it and I can contribute to this, why would I not want to? This is just history repeating itself all over again.”
With the recent rally in Nashville devolving into chaos as protestors clashed with police, law enforcement was on high alert; Franklin police cars could be seen circling the roundabout throughout the duration of the rally. Williamson County Sheriff’s deputies were seen near the courthouse, and a police helicopter could be seen hovering overhead.
Williamson County Sheriff Dusty Rhodes was also near the square during the rally, and said he had been pleased with the participants’ commitment to gathering peacefully.
“It's peaceful, they got the right to get their voice heard, and I just hope it stays that way,” Rhodes said. “[We'll] support them the best we can. There were some powerful messages at the church on Tuesday night, and their voice was heard, and I hope it resonates.”
While dozens, if not hundreds, of passing motorists honked in support of the rally, there were some who held concerns over the potential for chaos. One such man was Franklin native Bryan Pennington, who engaged in a short back and forth with protesters from across the street.
“I'm all for protests, but all against riots and violence, so I'm just trying to make sure nothing gets out of hand,” Pennington said.
“I'm very upset that they're thinking about trying to erase history, which is the stupidest thing to ever do, so I'm protecting Chip - our monument - and just making sure that nothing turns violent. My message is love and no racism for anybody, so why are we being violent? Hopefully they won't be tonight."
The rally would go on for hours until around 8 p.m., where only a few participants remained. The rally’s organizer, Burnham, said as she was leaving that the turnout had been more than she could have imagined.
"This was such a peaceful protest, I don't even see like a blade of grass out of place,” Burnham said.
“It was a phenomenal turnout, I think we got a few hundred people. I think we heard a lot of voices from the black community in Franklin saying that they feel heard, and that they haven't felt that in a very long time.”
When asked what her advice was to those who would like to be more proactive in standing in solidarity with the black community, Burnham suggested for people to reach out beyond their comfort zones and take action.
“Don't just sit there and say that you're unhappy and post a platitude on Facebook,” Burnham said.
“Stand up, make a sign and do something that makes you uncomfortable. If our friends and neighbors have anxiety and fear about just driving down the street, you can have anxiety and fear about holding a sign. Get out of your comfort zone and just do something that shows people that you support them.”