USCT Soldier statue

Joe F. Howard works on the bronze statue of the United States Colored Troops Soldier that will be unveiled Saturday in downtown Franklin.

Four years after the Fuller Story came together and two years since markers telling that story were placed around the Franklin town square, organizers have scheduled another significant step of the initiative with the unveiling and dedication later this month of the bronze United States Colored Troops Soldier statue. 

The ceremony, titled “March to Freedom,” gets underway Saturday, Oct. 23, in front of the Historic Courthouse at 10:30 a.m. and is the culmination of what is called “Three Landmark Days with The Fuller Story.” 

The weekend of education and celebration begins Thursday, Oct. 21, at 6:30 p.m. with a program at the Franklin Theatre titled “Telling the Story of The Fuller Story.”The four founders of the Fuller Story — Hewitt Sawyers, Eric Jacobson, Kevin Riggs and Chris Williamson — will share their experiences during their four-year journey in the cause. They will take questions from the live and virtual audiences. This event is free and open to the public.

On Friday at 6:30 p.m., the Factory at Franklin will be the site of “An Elegant Evening with The Fuller Story.” Attendees will enjoy a brief program, catered meal, live musical entertainment by Jason Eskridge, and dancing to the music of Nioshi Jackson & The Heroes. One of the evening’s highlights will be a few words from Joe F. Howard, the sculptor of the USCT statue who will speak to his experience in creating “March to Freedom.” 

The event will also include the honoring of several modern day African American celebrity heroes in the community with the USCT Humanitarian Award. This list includes Grammy Award-winning jazz saxophonist Kirk Whalum, activist Cyntoia Brown Long, and former Titans and Super Bowl champion coach Sherman Smith, among others.

Tickets for the Friday night affair are $100 per person and $1,000 per table. Tickets for this 800-seat event can be purchased through the Battle of Franklin Trust’s website.

The buildup leads to Saturday morning’s ceremony titled “The Citywide USCT Soldier Statue Unveiling and Dedication.” Remarks will be given by the Fuller Story organizers, Franklin Mayor Ken Moore, City Administrator Eric Stuckey, Alderman Dana McLendon, from Ward 2, and the sculptor, Howard. Special music will be rendered by the African American ensemble “Kettle Praise.” This event is free and open to the public. 

“This glorious statue will stand in front of the Historic Courthouse in Franklin where hundreds of escaped slaves in Williamson County and surrounding areas fled to in order to enlist in the Union Army,” Williamson said. “This statue represents the 186,000 United States Colored Troops soldiers who courageously fought for this country’s freedom and their own freedom. These Black men are worthy to be honored and celebrated.”

The Fuller Story initiative began in August 2017 after a white nationalist protest rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, erupted into violence over the removal of a Robert E. Lee monument. Back in Franklin, two Black men (Rev. Hewitt Sawyers and Rev. Chris Williamson) and two white men (Rev. Kevin Riggs and historian Eric Jacobson) decided to work together along with the city’s mayor and administrators in an effort to provide proactive solutions surrounding the controversy of Confederate monuments. 

A plan arose that would focus on education and representation. In October 2019, five historic markers were installed around the city square, telling the stories of enslaved Africans and African Americans before, during and after the Civil War. The final aspect of the plan involves installing a statue of a USCT soldier in a place of prominence and equal nobility on the city’s square.