Nashville, Tenn. (TN Tribune)–Nashville Zoo recently announced the Morton Family Exhibit and Opening was awarded Top Honors forthe Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Angela Peterson Excellence in Diversity Award at the AZA Annual Conference in Baltimore, MD earlier this month. 

The Grassmere property dates back to a land grant in 1786 and has been home to many people, including enslaved individuals and Black tenant farmers. In the early 1900s, Frank Morton and his family came to the Grassmere property to live and work as tenant farmers until 1973 and were crucial to the success of Grassmere.

Rick Schwartz, Nashville Zoo President and CEO, shared, “While Nashville Zoo is a young organization, it’s important for us to tell the full story of our site’s more than 200-year history, so that guests not only understand why we are fortunate to have a Zoo located on this beautiful property and how that came about, but also to understand there are more stories to be told, including that of the Morton family.”

The Morton Family Exhibit is located in the cabin where Frank Morton and his family lived, near the Grassmere Historic Home. The exhibit showcases the importance of the Morton family’s legacy and examines their relationship with white land owners Margaret and Elise Croft. The exhibit fosters thoughtful, transparent, and respectful consideration of and conversation about our incredibly difficult shared history. The multi-award-winning exhibit is the result of years of research and collaboration with Frank Morton’s descendants. The opening ceremony was held on Juneteenth in 2021 (June 19, 2021) with more than 100 of Frank Morton’s descendants in attendance.

The Angela Peterson Excellence in Diversity Award recognizes institutions that have made significant strides in creating influential and transformative programs in diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion. Nashville Zoo was awarded Top Honors for exemplifying inclusion, diversity and equity by examining a difficult part of local and regional history. 

“Zoos and aquariums are in a unique position to create inclusive and impactful experiences while also advancing efforts in diversity, equity, access, and inclusion in our communities,” said Vice President and Deputy Director of the San Diego Zoo and Chair of the AZA Diversity Committee Dean Watanabe. “The Morton Family Cabin project is a powerful example of a zoo using its voice to elevate untold stories and shine a light on critical forgotten perspectives.”

To date, the Morton Family Exhibit and Opening have been recognized with the following:

  • Tennessee Association of Museums
    • Award of Excellence, Permanent Exhibit
    • Award of Excellence, Special Event (Opening ceremony)
    • Past President’s award contender
  • American Association for State and Local History
    • Leadership in History Award of Excellence, Special Project (Exhibit and Opening Ceremony)
  • Tennessee Historical Commission
    • Award of Merit
  • Southeastern Museums Conference
    • Honorable Mention, Exhibition Competition
  • Association of Zoos and Aquariums
    • Top Honors for Angela Peterson Excellence in Diversity Award

For more info on the exhibit, visit www.nashvillezoo.org.