By Clint Confehr
COLUMBIA, TN — The exact location for a planned African American museum and cultural center here is to be officially announced May 27 during a luncheon at the West 7th Street Church of Christ.
Maury County Historian Jo Ann McClellan, founder and president of the African American Heritage Society of Maury County, says the society’s building is to be “in the historic African American business district.” In Columbia, that’s East 8th Street where, in 1946, Blacks defended their businesses against local law officers during what was headlined as the Columbia race riot.
Despite that, the AAHS has been telling “all the history of Maury County, not just the Black history or the white history,” as McClellan said in 2020 upon her confirmation as county historian following her selection by then-county mayor Andy Ogles, now a U.S. congressman.
“To do what we think we’re going to do over a 3-4 year period … we’re going to need about $2 million,” she said.
The 11:45 a.m. luncheon at 405 West 7th Street is a fundraiser for “a state of the art exhibit space … an indoor museum,” McClellan said, noting that this summer, the AAHS is hosting a Smithsonian Institution display in the Maury County Public Library, 211 W. 8th St.
Tickets to the luncheon are free, but $10 donations are suggested.
As the first of two events, it precedes Whitsunday, hosted by St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, 311 W. 7th St., Columbia. The May 28 program is in the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church, 6497 Trotwood Ave., where services begin at 10 a.m. Both events are “Connecting with the Community.” The Right Rev. Phoebe Alison Roaf, Tennessee’s first female African American Episcopal bishop, speaks at both programs.
The luncheon “was initiated because of the Episcopal bishop,” McClellan said. St. Peter’s rector, Father Chris Bowhay, concurs.
Roaf’s “presence here is historic,” Bowhay said. Whitsunday, the British nickname for the Feast of Pentecost, has been at St. John’s for more than a century.
As for Saturday’s luncheon attendance, “More than 100 would be considered a success; 200 would be ideal,” Bowhay said of the event co-sponsored by the AAHS and St. Peter’s Episcopal in a Church of Christ.
“Ever since the events of 1946, Maury County has been smeared with that … but there are so many other stories,” Bowhay said.
Examples include an AAHS program on Samuel Mayes Arnell. The Tennessee slave owner promoted Civil Rights after the Civil War as a legislator enacting voting rights for Blacks and, later with Columbia’s postmaster, establishing Freedman’s Savings and Trust at 6th and North Main streets. AAHS has promoted and dedicated state historic markers and added names of U.S. Colored Troops to those of other veterans honored at the Maury County Courthouse.
A video to be displayed during the luncheon reports stories of African Americans in Maury County. The Black history museum planned here is to have exhibits and programming about “ordinary people doing extraordinary things to build the African American community by establishing churches, schools, businesses, and benevolent organizations,” McClellan said.
Other luncheon presenters include state Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka.
Last week, McClellan declined to state the exact location of the planned center, but said a building there “is not being used for anything… We are in conversation with someone” for the acquisition of the real estate.