Women in Leadership in Franklin, Tennessee : Mary Mills (seated), From left, Monique McCullough, McMillan, Thelma Battle, Alma McLemore

Franklin, Tenn. (first published by Southern Exposure)—These five women exemplify leadership in our community and it is our honor to recognize their achievements. Their legacy is leaving their community better than they found it. Never seeking credit, just doing the work that God has led them to do because it needed to be done and because they have a passion for community and for helping others.

Mary Mills is the matriarch of this year’s group of honorees. Mills was born on the fourth of July in Franklin, Tennessee. She found her love for teaching at a young age under the mentorship of J.R. Watkins. He gave her an opportunity to substitute teach while she was still a senior in high school and she was “hooked”. Mrs. Mills was a pioneer in education in Williamson County serving both before and after public school integration. She spent over thirty-nine years in education starting out as a teacher in the Franklin Special School District and eventually ending up in administration as a principal. Mary Elisabeth Johnson Mills has served her community in many important including: serving as a twenty-five year board member of Williamson Medical Center, seventeen years on the Williamson County Board of Commissioners; she was one of the founders of the African American Heritage Society where she participates regularly and Mrs. Mills remains very active with Historic Shorter Chapel AME Church. Mrs. Mills has worked tirelessly to live up to her early commitment to better her community as a supporter of education and health.

Thelma Battle, also a native of Franklin, has pioneered the field of African American Cultural Studies in Williamson County. The community has enjoyed her photographic exhibit on African American themes at the public library over the years. She has collected a treasure trove of historical information on her community and has published several books drawn from her research including “Raining in the House and Leaking Outdoors” and “We Ran until Who Lasted Longest”. Her genealogical research has helped many families trace their roots to Williamson County, both local and out-of-state. For many years Ms. Battle has participated with the African American Heritage Society’s Pioneer Family Project. Rick Warwick, County Historian calls her a true grassroots historian “… she has a good way with words, she knows what she wants and she knows how to find it.” She is a recipient of the prestigious J. Paul Getty Preservation Award.

Alma McLemore, a native of Franklin, is the President of the board of directors of the African American Heritage Society and serves as Executive Director. Ms. McLemore, or Alma Lee, as she is known to her close friends and classmates is a graduate of Franklin High School’s first integrated class. She has deep roots in the community and a servant’s heart. Alma serves on the City of Franklin’s Planning Commission and Battlefield Preservation Commission. During her tenure at the AAHS, Ms. McLemore has overseen the restoration of The McLemore House while it has been closed for COVID. In 2021, the AAHS was also able to purchase a second property, the Merrill-Williams home located on Natchez Street. The home will eventually be used for educational and interpretive purposes for the Natchez neighborhood and for Black history. McLemore never says “no” when asked to serve!

Alma has served on many boards including: Habitat for Humanity, WAVES, Franklin Tomorrow, New Hope Academy, Williamson County Chamber of Commerce Affordable Housing Taskforce, Mercy’s Children Clinic, United Community Resource Foundation, Franklin Tomorrow’s Housing Task Force, and United Way of Williamson County Task Force. Alma is a graduate of the City of Franklin Citizens Police Academy and a graduate of the Leadership Franklin Class of 2000. Alma is a member of the City of Franklin Housing Commission, the City of Franklin Civil War Commission, Battle of Franklin Trust, Williamson Co. Convention and Visitors Bureau, recent past members of Columbia State Community College Foundation Board and the 21st Recovery Court Board of Directors, where she still volunteers with the board’s annual fundraisers.

Doris McMillan is Director of Admissions and Enrollment Management for New Hope Academy and owner of Seams by Doris, LLC. She currently sits on the Tennessee Historical Commission as a Governor Lee appointee. Mrs. McMillan has been credited with wardrobe outfitting for numerous celebrities and shows including the Oprah Winfrey Show, Naomi Judd, Sheryl Crow, and Tim McGraw. Her advocacy work for women and children has earned her the title “Williamson County Trailblazer”. She has been involved in mentoring for all ages, but, particularly for young people. Helping people know their purpose is truly one of Mrs. McMillan’s most brilliant strengths. Establishing the African American Heritage Society’s Black Tie Affair is one of her largest community accomplishments. The event is celebrating its twentieth year and is currently sold out. McMillan has served on the board of Mercy Children’s Clinic, African American Heritage Society, Franklin Tomorrow, Haiti Hospital Foundation, Inner City Coalition, 4H of Williamson County and the Williamson County Library, Franklin Breakfast Rotary, City of Franklin Parks, National Federation of Colored Women and many others. Most recently, she helped to start the 100 Black Women of Williamson County.

Monique McCullough currently serves as the Public Outreach Specialist for the City of Franklin, Tennessee where she manages community relations and outreach programs for the City. A native of Franklin, she has worked for the city since 1999 and oversees the City’s participation in the planning of festivals and events, which are enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of residents and visitors each year.

With over 20 years of event planning experience, Monique has a Bachelor’s degree from Tennessee State University and an MBA from Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia. She is a graduate of Leadership Franklin and a past board member of Franklin Tomorrow. She is active in both professional and civic organizations, including 3CMA, a professional organization for government communicators; Tennessee State University National Alumni Association; and the United Way of Williamson County.

This article was first published by Southern Exposure Magazine