From staff reports

FRANKLIN, TN — Money is needed to renovate a Natchez Street house for a
heritage center run by the African American Heritage Society here, so Maurice
Pope is volunteering his culinary talents again.

“We were able to raise about $20,000 in the matter of seven hours” last year when
money was raised to buy the Merrill-Williams House, Pope said recalling proceeds
from the sale of scrumptious comfort food prepared by his Moe Better BBQ and
Fish business.

Pope cooks meat that others donate to the cause of revealing local history because,
as AAHS members said when forming the society two decades ago, “We have a
story to tell.”

For that cause, the public is invited to Limestone Baptist Church, 1613 W. Main
St., from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 8. All proceeds from the sale of fish,
BBQ, chicken plates and sandwiches will go toward renovation of the Merrill-
Williams House. With a bake sale there, dinner and dessert will be easy as pie. The
event includes a car show, entertainment for children and a silent auction.

Still, the attraction is Moe Better BBQ and Fish: the latter being a wild whitening
fish from Argentina that’s 14 percent protein and cooked in Pope’s special batter;
the former being a combination of pulled pork and chicken.

Pope explains: well-seasoned meat is marinated; smoked over a cherry wood fire;
and cooled overnight to set the flavor as the meat is relaxed and becomes tender.
“It’s not only mouthwatering, it’s tender, and juicy,” he said. Pope’s slogan: “You
don’t need no teeth to eat this meat.”

Cherry wood “gives the meat a pretty color,” he said, warning against over-
smoking meat so the seasoning flows through it. Pope donates his talent to raise money for an African-American heritage center where people may learn local history.

Purchased for $610,000, the Merrill-Williams House at 264 Natchez St. is “in the
architectural stage,” the AAHS announced Sept. 24. Society leaders have been
interviewing architects and engineers for the renovation. “The fundraiser on the 8th
is to solely benefit the African American Society’s continuing efforts to renovate
the house.”

It’s at a pivotal intersection within the Natchez Street Historic District. The house
is about a third of a mile west of the Carter House, 1140 Columbia Ave. That well-
known Civil War building is a significant place for the Battle of Franklin in 1864.
Built in the late 1800’s, the house at 264 Natchez St. was saved from gentrification
last year, AAHS has reported. Its land has been zoned for two homes. A previous
owner received calls from people interested in redeveloping the property for two
homes.

While fundraising to buy 264 Natchez St., State Historian Carroll Van West,
director of the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee State
University in Murfreesboro, said the first resident of the house was an enslaved
man, a family servant of a slave trader in Franklin. The gift was in-lieu of the
recipient’s decades in bondage. West said the house is so important that he’s
assigned MTSU graduate assistants to focus on developing a heritage center there.
Once the Merrill-Williams House becomes a heritage center, visitors will be told
“what’s good about the South … not denying where we have gone down wrong
roads in the past,” West said.

The Merrill-Williams House is a mile northeast of Limestone Baptist Church on
West Main Street at Downes Boulevard where Moe Better BBQ and Fish will be
sold Saturday.

Clint Confehr

Clint Confehr — an American journalist since 1972 — first wrote for The Tennessee Tribune in 1999. His news writing and photography in South Central Tennessee and the Nashville Metropolitan Statistical...