By Carla Hendricks
FRANKLIN, TN — Surrounded by a host of spirited counter-protestors yelling “white lives matter” and “all lives matter” around the square in Downtown Franklin, four local teenagers stood their ground in the center of the square on Friday to call for the removal of the historic monument of a Confederate soldier nicknamed “Chip” by local residents.
“I feel like we prepared for the opposition,” Nia Williamson, a Franklin Road Academy graduate headed to Howard University this fall, told The Tennessee Tribune. “It was intimidating, but I felt empowered, because what I said about the statue coming down is what I wanted them to hear. People came out on both sides of the issue, which means the march was significant.”
Several months ago, Williamson joined three friends to form Students for Black Empowerment (SFBE), a student-led organization fighting for racial justice and equity. The July 31 march that began at Franklin’s Bicentennial Park and ended in the Square, united more than 250 Franklin residents in support of SFBE. The march was conceived to protest the monument erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) in 1899, which SFBE deems “a divisive symbol” and “a reminder of the days of intimidation and oppression towards African American residents,” according to their social media sites.
“The march was sparked after the death of George Floyd and other African Americans, a reminder that things are not okay in our country or our town, in regards to race and race relations,” Williamson said. “The march is a reminder to this town that we are not okay with the status quo and we’re here to change it.”
Paxton Perry, a Brentwood Academy graduate beginning his freshman year at Georgetown University in the fall, co-founded SFBE with Williamson, Tariah Lane and Emmaline Scott. He is a multi-generational Franklin native, whose ancestors owned slaves and landed on the Confederate side of the Civil War.
“I have three ancestors in the original photo next to the statue when the UDC put it up,” Perry told The Tennessee Tribune. “My family is an example of those that have grown up here. There’s a narrative that Black Lives Matters is a northern group, but we’re not outside agitators. We are inside agitators from this town and we want to say our own town is wrong.”
Perry hopes the march will spark an ongoing protest of Chip, with the group adopting “RIP Chip” as one of their mantras and hashtags. They hope to garner the UDC’s attention, and encourage them to remove Chip and move the monument to a Confederate cemetery or a Civil War museum.
“We grew up with an awareness of the problems of the statue,” Perry said. “That it represents those who fought on the southern side of the Civil War, for the protection of slavery as an institution. Hopefully people will see that the statue is abhorrent to people here and that it doesn’t represent many of the people in Franklin.”