A few months back, while digging in the ground for yet another new Franklin developement, workers unearthed some old bones. Activity ceased and experts were called in who determined that the bones belonged to a soldier who died during the Battle of Franklin, November 30, 1864. They couldn’t tell which side he fought on–Confederate or Union–and there was no clue about his identity. Close to 2,000 soldiers were killed on that day, and many more times that were wounded. It was one of the bloodiest days in American history, and, when you think about it, it’s not surprising that this body was found.
Yesterday there was a big ceremony in town. There was a funeral for the soldier at one of the old churches that was built long before the battle. It was packed with re-enactors and others dressed in period costume. There there was a procession to a cemetery, with a horse-drawn caisson bearing the hand-built casket. Thousands watched–they came here from 4 countries and 29 states.
I had told someone the day before that I didn’t think it would be a very big deal. Man, was I ever wrong. NBC News was even there taping the event to show during tonight’s (Oct. 11) Titans/Colts football game.
All this is to say that sometimes I wonder if it’s easier to be from Idaho or Nebraska or anywhere else other than a once-small Southern town whose history is forever entwined with violence and slavery? Our beautiful dry stack stone fences are known as slave walls. Our beautiful old homes were built with slave labor. The native African-Americans are descendants of slaves, including some that were owned by my family.
I’m not here to apologise for what happened 200 years ago. I have to worry about how I treat people today.
Hmmmm…wasn’t this post supposed to be about a book?
The Help is set in Jackson, Miss., in the early 1960s and it is about the relationships between black maids and the white women who employee them. There are three main characters (two older maids and a young, white Junior Leaguer). The girl is a budding author and wants to write about the lives of the maids. She has a hard time convincing them to participate–they are understandably afraid for their jobs. But when the young girl’s best friend launches a campaign aimed to put a “colored only” bathroom in every home that employs a maid, the women decide to talk.
I’ve done a poor job of describing this wonderful book. But what comes through loud and clear is the fear and sense of defeat that these women bear. They live in complete segregation–they can’t even shop in certain grocery stores unless they’re wearing their maid’s uniforms–a sign that they’re there on white business. Even though the book is set a century after slavery is outlawed, you wonder just how much has changed.
Which brings me back to Franklin.
I’m all about tradition and I’m glad that I’m able to live in this place that’s nurtured my family’s roots for generations. I just wish we didn’t rush celebrate a day when thousands died and thousands more were wounded and maimed–all in an effort to enslave our fellow humans.
Today tourists come here to see where the battle was fought and to tour the homes that have been turned into museums. The money they leave has filled our coffers nicely.
So it’s complicated. We celebrate the Confederate soldiers who fought and died here. But we conveniently forget what they were fighting for.