Franklin Mourns its Sole African American Alderman

Pearl Bransford, a longtime member of the Franklin Board of Mayor and Aldermen, and a former member of the Franklin Special School District board, passed Friday at home.

By Carla Hendricks

FRANKLIN, TN — The Franklin community is mourning the loss of Alderman Pearl Bransford, the sole African American member of the city’s board of mayor and aldermen. Re-elected for a fourth term in October 2019, the 67-year-old passed away on Friday after a private battle with cancer.

First elected to the city board in 2007, Bransford was a Franklin resident for more than 35 years. She was a respected and thoughtful member of city government, a private person who took care of this community as she did for patients during her career as a nurse.

“I’m shocked because I had no idea she’d been sick,” Alderman Dana McLendon said. “When the mayor called me this [Saturday] morning, I thought this can’t be good news. I’m really sorry for her friends and family. She will be sorely missed.”

McLendon served alongside Bransford for 13 years. He noted Bransford’s impact on this community saying, “Pearl had a connection to a part of the community that doesn’t get a lot of attention. Pearl had that gift, and you can’t replace that. She knew everyone. I don’t think I ever introduced Pearl to anyone. It was always Pearl introducing me to someone else. She was very gracious and graceful. I was glad to serve with her, and I certainly will miss my friend.”

Born in the small West Tennessee town of Brownsville, Pearl spent most of her life in Middle Tennessee, earning nursing degrees from Tennessee State University and Vanderbilt University. In addition to her community activism and public service, she enjoyed an 18-year nursing career at Vanderbilt Medical Center. 

Bransford served the Franklin Special School District Board from 1992 to 2003, and served as vice chair for eight years. “The Bell family is mourning her loss,” Allena Bell, Franklin Special School District Board treasurer, said. “She was a great mentor and friend. I always received great wisdom and unique perspectives to aid my legacy of service for our Franklin community.”

Pearl actively served Franklin Tomorrow, a community-visioning nonprofit. “Pearl was very supportive of Franklin Tomorrow,” Franklin Tomorrow Executive Director Mindy Tate said. “She attended all our events, including Vision City, because she was a forward-thinking individual.”

Close friend Cornelia Holland met Pearl in 1986, and said her death felt “surreal” at this time. “She was my sister, and that’s how we considered each other,” Holland said. “She supported me in my endeavors. We had such similar thoughts. Usually, if you saw me, you saw her.”

Holland shared details of Pearl’s family’s Civil Rights activism in Brownsville. “She told me that as a young child, she marched through the streets with her grandfather while Klansmen stood on the sidewalks shouting obscenities at them. During her childhood Klansmen burned a cross on her family’s front yard.” 

Those traumatic childhood memories only cemented Bransford’s future as a public servant. “Pearl never looked at people according to their race,” Holland continued. “She looked at the richest people and the homeless in the same way. She looked at each person with dignity and grace.”

Alma McLemore, president of the African American Heritage Society of Williamson County, considered Bransford a close friend and colleague. They served on the City Planning Commission and the Franklin Housing Commission together and advocated for the community together for many years.

“It is a shock to the entire community,” McLemore told theTennessee Tribune. “She was a true community advocate. She was willing to listen to her constituents. She was there to give her voice and take action. She was a strong advocate for affordable housing and historic preservation.”

McLemore is grateful for Bransford’s consistent support of the African American Heritage Society. “She was always supportive of our black-tie event. If I asked her to come speak, she always said yes. She would come greet people at the McLemore House.” 

“This is a tremendous loss to our city,” McLemore added. “You can’t replace a person like Pearl. The things she touched and the people she touched will allow her legacy to live on.”

Bransford is survived by her husband, Henry (Hank) Bransford, and her three children. Her family will host a private outdoor family memorial in Brownsville, while the City of Franklin is planning a virtual memorial on December 8, during the scheduled board of Mayor and aldermen meeting.