The Nicest Place in Tennessee: Franklin
NICEST PLACES IN AMERICA 2019 FINALIST
To bring people together, this traditional Southern city embraces its past—both the good and the bad.
Franklin, Tennessee, is a place where the past is still alive—but so is the future.
“There’s a lot of change here, a lot of growth,” says local pastor Kevin Riggs. “People from California, Seattle, all over the country.”
The town wasn’t always so welcoming. In the years following the Civil War, it was home to some of the South’s most violent white supremacists. Many of its African American residents fled for the North, and for much of the 20th century Franklin remained sleepy and segregated.
That has changed in recent years as auto manufacturers and other industries have come to the low-tax South. Franklin, a city of about 80,000 just 20 miles south of Nashville, has picked up its share of the Tennessee boom.
And now the town is trying to reckon with its past by telling what it calls the “Fuller Story” of the injustice of the Civil War and Jim Crow eras.
“The past is not pretty … but we cannot ignore it. We have to … appreciate the work our ancestors did,” said Alma McLemore, president of the city’s African-American Heritage Society, at a recent panel discussion. “We want to come together in peace and love to share our history.”
The Fuller Story project was launched by a multiracial coalition of faith leaders that included Riggs, of the Franklin Community Church. The goal was to amplify the voices of Franklin’s African Americans; among the projects is to place memorials to African Americans alongside a downtown statue that honors a Confederate soldier.
The statue plan has faced some opposition, but Riggs is confident that in the long run, the best of Franklin’s values will prevail.
“Traditional Southern values are hospitality and being kind to your neighbor. Add to that the Christian values where everyone’s your neighbor,” he says. “To everyone’s credit, when you bring [injustice] to light, they’ll see it and want to change it. I’m proud of this city. I’ve seen it come together.”
Everyone here is very nice and welcoming to everyone they meet. “We have a program here called “Franklin Locals.” It’s a total volunteer program whereby Franklinites walk around our historic downtown area and act as “on-street concierges”—welcoming folks to Franklin and asking if we can assist in any way—e.g., locate a site or store, point them to the public restrooms, recommend a restaurant or just say hello, we’re glad you’re here.
Also, we hosted an “On the table” event last year and plan to make it a regular event—it’s an initiative to gather folks together to discuss the good things about Franklin as well as discuss any areas of improvement as a city—it’s very inclusive—everyone is invited to provide their input.
Also, we have a quarterly “breakfast with the mayors” event which provides a venue for meeting and discussing topics across the whole of Williamson county (Franklin is in Williamson county) with all of the mayors of the five cities within the county as well as the county mayor. Again, very inclusive.
And, we’re very happy to be part of an initiative called “Fuller story”—as a Southern town we are very proud of our Civil War history but, until now, it has been rather one-sided and this initiative seeks to expand the history to include all the inhabitants in Franklin and their ancestors appropriately. So, instead of tearing down our historical legacy as other places have done, we are building on it and expanding it to tell the “fuller story” of all of the people in and around Franklin.