PHOTO: Pastor Hewitt Sawyers (far right) of West Harpeth Primitive Baptist Church speaks on behalf of the descendants of the Claybrooks family, the 2019 Pioneer Family introduced at Saturday’s A Black Tie Affair. / Photo by John McBryde
By JOHN McBRYDE
A crowd of over 700 people celebrated the African American Heritage Society of Williamson County with the 18th annual A Black Tie Affair at the Embassy Suites in Franklin Saturday night.
The event was hosted by Alma McLemore, president of the African American Heritage Society. April Eaton, a corporate relations manager for Allstate Insurance Company’s National Media Team, served as the evening’s Mistress of Ceremonies.
Serving as honorary chair of the 2019 Black Tie Affair was Mary Pearce, a founding member of the AAHS and former executive director of the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County.
Musical entertainment during dinner was provided by The Shindellas, a female singing trio that has played at various venues throughout the USA, and the night was capped with dancing to Julius Fisher and the Genius Band.
Like it has every year, the event gave families, friends and acquaintances the opportunity to visit or, in many cases, reconnect. After dinner and dessert, awards and honors were bestowed in a variety of categories and to a host of organizations and individuals.
The highlight of the evening was the recognition of the 2019 Historic African American Pioneer Family, the Claybrooks family. The family descends from three branches of families headed by men who were likely enslaved by the John S. Claybrooke family near Triune in eastern Williamson County — Steven Claybrooks was born in 1803 in Virginia; William Claybrooks was born in 1825, probably somewhere in Williamson County; and Albert Claybrooks was born in 1838 in Virginia.
Providing research on this year’s Pioneer Family were Carolyn Bright Worthy, Tina Jones, Paulette Johnson, Thelma Battle, Marcia Frazier and Rick Warwick.
“We owe a great deal of gratitude to all the historians who have gone to this great length to verify what has been verified [about this year’s Pioneer Family],” said Pastor Hewitt Sawyers of West Harpeth Primitive Baptist Church, one of the descendants. “It is something that we treasure. My daughter, Angela, came to me a few years ago and started talking to me about family heritage. My sister’s son also came to her and started talking about the same thing.”
“Some of you here may not have thought about it, but your heritage is important. I think, typically as African American families, we do not think about our family heritage because we don’t think it can be traced. But there are many ways you can trace your family heritage. I encourage you, if you haven’t started, start tracing your family heritage.”
A Black Tie Affair is a fundraiser that supports the McLemore House Museum, home of former slave Harvey McLemore, who built the home as a free man and which is listed on the National
Register of Historical Places. The event also supports the African American Heritage Society, whose mission is to chronicle the lives and contributions African Americans have made in the community. This year’s theme is Preserve, Protect & Honor.
Here is a list of some of those who were honored Saturday night:
Bill Reynolds, Reynold’s Janitorial Service
George Spencer Patton
Mary A. Hunter
Eleanor Bright and Mary Walker, Dynamic Sister Duo
One Generation Away
Pastor Emeritus John R. Holt
Connection Hill Primitive Baptist Church
AAHS Preservation Award
Inetta Gaines, Brentwood Library Slave Plaques
Wanda Bruce Graham, Brentwood Library Slave Plaques
David Rector, Jordan Elementary School
Carolyn Bright Worthy, Williamson County Library, Cataloging photos for Thelma Battle Collection
Christina Jones, Slaves to Soldiers Project, Fort Negley Preservation World War I Honors Project at Archives