As a member of the 2019 Pioneer Family, Caroline Sawyers Smith is looking forward to visiting with others from the Claybrooks family at Saturday’s Black Tie Affair. // Photo by John McBryde


Caroline Sawyers Smith, a lifelong resident of Williamson County, looks forward to her birthday every year.

It happens to fall on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, and this year will be her 85th. As is her routine, she’ll wake up early, do her workouts, have breakfast, and then take a seat in her favorite chair and let the celebrating begin.

“I’ll get 50 phone calls on my birthday,” Smith said recently, sitting in a conference room at the Williamson County Public Library in Franklin, “and then I’ll keep hearing from people. My birthday is the whole month of February.”

In addition to her birthday, this February happens to be special in another way for Smith. She is among those being honored as members of the Pioneer Family selected every year by the African American Heritage Society of Williamson County, which is holding its 18th annual Black Tie Affair at the Embassy Suite in Cool Springs Saturday, Feb. 2.

This year’s Pioneer Family is the Claybrooks family, descendants of William Claybrooks, who was born a slave in 1825.

“To receive this designation, the family roots have to be traced back to 1850 and beyond,” Alma McLemore, president of the African American Heritage Society, said.

As researchers began digging to find what they could on the Pioneer Family, they were able to draw the connection between Smith and the Claybrooks. A funeral program provided the best clues.

“I looked through that and found a John Henry Sawyers,” said Carolyn Bright Worthy, one of the volunteer researchers who work diligently each year to trace lineages on the Pioneer families. “So I needed a connection to Sawyers and the Claybrooks family. Sure enough, I found that his parents were Alice Claybrooks and Allen Sawyers. So from that I could just look at the census records, the death records, marriage certificates — just went from there and found generation to generation and ended up with William B. Claybrooks. He was a slave in Williamson County.”

Others on the Pioneer Family research team are Tina Jones, Paulette Johnson, Thelma Battle and Marcia Frazier.

Smith was born on a farm in the College Grove area in a community known then as Locust Ridge. Her parents were Will Amos Sawyers Sr. and Bertha Mae Caldwell Sawyers. She has outlived two husbands, Otis A. Walden and Eugene Smith, and has three sons, a daughter, 11 grandchildren and a couple of great-grandchildren.

Serving as honorary chair of the 2019 Black Tie Affair will be Mary Pearce, a founding member of the AAHS and former executive director of the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County. In addition to recognizing the 2019 Pioneer Family, the Black Tie Affair will also be presenting awards to individuals in the following categories: education, business, civic, communication, religion, AAHS volunteer, organization and preservation.

Entertainment will be provided by the Shindellas, a female singing trio that has played at various venues throughout the country and who sang at the 2018 Christmas tree lighting event for the city of Franklin.

The 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. The McLemore House is listed on the National Register of Historic 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.

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