The great glory of American democracy is the right to protest for right,” the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said in 1955, according to publicity for a Smithsonian Institute display at the Maury County Public Library Aug. 19-Sept. through Oct. 1. File photo

By Clint Confehr

COLUMBIA, TN — The African American Heritage Society of Maury County is hosting a Smithsonian museum exhibit opening here Saturday to, among other things, examine the freedoms and responsibilities of citizenship.

Aug. 19 is the grand opening for the exhibit, society President Jo Ann McClellan said of the Smithsonian Museum on Main Street display, “Voices and Votes: Democracy in Action,” at the Maury County Public Library, 211 W. 8th St., on display through Oct. 1.

Columbia is one of several stops for “Voices and Votes’” statewide tour.

Humanities Tennessee, a non-profit organization, is cosponsoring the exhibit and recommends local hosts develop complementary exhibits and hold programs to raise awareness among area residents about: local history; the joys and challenges of living rural; and “how change has impacted their community … [to] prompt discussion of goals for the future.”

The AAHS of Maury County responded with local history lessons. McClellan discussed two Maury County men who are included in that display.

They are:

 • The Rev. Edmund Kelly — a Baptist pastor who, with other clergy, met with Abraham Lincoln in 1863 about enslaved men being allowed to join the Union Army to fight the Confederacy. The Maury County man wrote and circulated a pamphlet, “The Colored Man’s Interest in the Present War.” In that pamphlet, Kelly said, “I sincerely trust the colored people will never wait to be drafted, but volunteer to a man … [W]hile … white people hazard their civil and political rights, the colored people lose both and their freedom…” That opportunity arose with the Emancipation Proclamation.

 • Samuel Arnell — who served as Columbia’s postmaster and a member of the Tennessee House of Representatives, as well as a founder of the Freedman’s Bank here — was quoted in 1867 by The Union Flag newspaper of Jonesborough, Tenn., as saying “Tennessee forced in ’61 into rebellion, back into the Union … colored people in the state have been clothed with citizenship, and gaze, today, with a free look at Heaven.”

The AAHS has invited all locally elected officials of Columbia and Maury County to a reception starting at 3 p.m. Saturday in the library. Heritage Bank is a co-sponsor of the reception. Refreshments will be served for guests touring the exhibit.

Kelly and Arnell are two of 10 people who promoted democracy in Maury County “from the 1860s to the 1960s,” McClellan said.

When announcing the presentation, the county library quoted the exhibit as saying, “The great leaps of faith taken by the Founders [of the United States] sent ripple effects across centuries. They embraced a truly radical idea that rejected monarchy and entrusted the power of the nation in its citizens. Our democracy is ever-changing … every time we choose to vote and raise our voices.”

The traveling exhibit: opened March 25 in Clinton, Tenn.; had two other stops before Columbia; reopens Oct. 7 in the Martin [Tenn.] Public Library, closing Nov. 19; and reopening Nov. 25 for a display ending Jan. 7 at Humboldt in the Tom & O.E. Stigall Museum.

The exhibit is based on displays from the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. It’s a collaboration between Humanities Tennessee which conducts and supports public humanities programs focusing on local history, literature and civic life to promote conversation and strengthen communities.

Meanwhile, the AAHS is collaborating with Columbia State Community College for a program in its Ledbetter Auditorium to debate the pros and cons of the electoral college. It’s set for 6 p.m. Sept. 18 in conjunction with Constitution Day with help from CSCC history Professor Barry Gidcomb.

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...