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Guest Post: Lest We Forget

Thelma Battle

By Thelma Battle

The cultural tradition of funeral services, among many African- American citizens, has been a unique tradition since slavery. Oral history tells us that during slavery times many slaves were not allowed the opportunity to have a funeral or to pay respect to the deceased.  The deceased if fallen dead in the field, for instance was taken, wrapped and a hole was dug, with no funeral or burial rites. The only person to view this process was the digger of the hole. This was not always the case in many other instances of deceased slaves. Williamson County, Tennessee is known for its slave cemeteries, meaning that some slave owners had the decency to see that their slaves had a proper burial; and that loved ones were allowed to attend the burial.

The history of some African American funerals, carry a uniqueness that often interprets the region of habitation.

Thelma Battle’s 2018 Black History Month Exhibit, Lest We Forget, will be open the entire month of February during regular Library hours: M-Th 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., F-Sat. 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Sundays, 1-5:30 p.m.

The cultural tradition of African Americans providing printed funeral programs at the ceremony of a loved one is a unique, yet national among most African Americans.

History tells us that slaves were sold and many slave families were separated forever. This cruel act meant such slaves would never see their loved ones again or have knowledge of who they were. Today the ability to put in writing the life and times concerning the deceased and sharing it with family, friends and loved ones is an expression of freedom. It is a reminder as well as a celebration of “Who You Were” and “Whence You Came”, What You Stood For”.  The order of service, the undertaker, flower girls and pallbearer and cemetery is also announced.

Today many African Americans come together at funerals bearing an oppressed history, but are able to share in the freedom of this day and time; and in doing this act take home a keepsake printed history of the deceased. Such material is often priceless to genealogists tracing family trees.

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Lest We Forget: The 2018 Thelma Battle Collection African American Exhibit

Handmade Funeral Program for Mittie Gentry Scruggs

By Marcia Fraser, Special Collections Department

Now, throughout February, the Special Collections department at Williamson County Public Library is hosting the 2018 Thelma Battle Black History Month Photographic Exhibit, “Lest We Forget,” spotlighting the lives of residents in Franklin’s black community who have lived and died in Williamson County. This exhibit features the vast funeral program collection housed in Special Collections as part of the Thelma Battle Family History Collection.

Why funeral programs? Oftentimes, we really don’t get to know a person until he or she dies. Have you ever been to a funeral, or read an obituary, and realized there were important things about that person that you didn’t even know? Maybe you weren’t aware of some of the ways he participated in the community, or who his family connections are. This is what makes funeral programs and/or obituaries so valuable. If you’re researching your family history, they’re absolute gold!

Obituaries tell us a lot. Things like a person’s full name, his parents’ names, when he was born, who his children and grandchildren are, who predeceased him, who survived him, what he did for a living, when he died, and sometimes why. A funeral program gives you that and more – who preached the service, who the pall bearers and flower bearers were, what scripture was read, which songs were sung. A funeral program can give you the family and friend connections of the deceased. That’s a lot of information to find in one place, and if you’re researching your genealogy, it could give you the very link you need to connect you from one generation to the next on the family tree.

Mittie Gentry Scruggs and husband Forrest Scruggs

We now have over 1200 funeral programs from our local black community in Special Collections, and we’re still collecting. They are filed alphabetically in notebooks, and also digitized in our data files, so they’re available for the cost of a copy, ten cents a page. We are always seeking ways to enlarge our collection and so we invite you to share copies of programs you have that we don’t. If you have family funeral programs or obituaries you can share, we would love for you to bring them in and allow us to copy them and add them to our collection. Talk to one of the librarians in Special Collections to see if you have a program we need. An index of names in our current collection is available to exhibit attendees to search.

This year’s photograph exhibit will also include a new oral history film about Ms. Battle’s work as a grassroots historian, “Thelma’s Battle; Preserving African-American History in Franklin, Tennessee.” The film will be available for viewing as part of the exhibit.

The exhibit is held on the 2nd floor of the library in the Special Collections department at 1314 Columbia Ave. in Franklin, and will run from Feb. 1st – 28th. There will also be displays in the upstairs and downstairs display cases near the elevators. For more information, call 615/525-1246.

Excerpt from the funeral program of Mittie Gentry Scruggs

20 Year Retrospective of Thelma Battle’s Williamson County African American History in Photographs

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Over the past 20 years, since her first exhibit in 1996, Ms. Thelma Battle has displayed over 3000 images in 18 exhibits in observance of Black History Month and in celebration of the culture of Williamson County’s African American community.

This year, the Williamson County Public Library hopes to honor her tremendous effort, commitment, and contribution as a grass roots historian.

The 130 images on display this year are taken from all of the past exhibits Ms. Battle has compiled. The complete display can be viewed in the downstairs and upstairs display cabinets next to the elevator, and in the Special Collections department on the 2nd floor.

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Also, in honor of Black History Month, Jane Landers, professor of history at Vanderbilt University, will lecture on her more than twenty years of research on the African Diaspora in various parts of the Americas. Her graduate research on the first free black town in in the Americas (formed by runaways from South Carolina who fled to Spanish Florida) supported archaeological investigations, a National Landmark registry and a museum. Since then she has also worked on diasporic sites in Mexico, Cuba, Colombia and Brazil. Landers now directs an international effort to digitally preserve the oldest records for Africans in the Americas.

This presentation will present an overview of the rise of the African slave trade and the subsequent diaspora of Africans through the Americas.  Main themes will include differences among European slave systems in the Spanish, Portuguese, English, and French colonies of the Americas and the resulting varieties of cultural expression and resistance of the enslaved.  You will also be introduced to the wide variety of evidence now available for studying the African diaspora in the Americas.

The African Diaspora_Feb.26

The Annual Williamson County African American History Exhibit is Here!

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Migrations of Williamson County African Americans, Feb. 2-28, 2015 — Special Collections Department, Williamson County Public Library

The Special Collections department at the Williamson County Public Library is hosting its annual photographic exhibit on Williamson County African American history by local historian and author Thelma Battle. This year’s exhibit is “Coming & Going,” and examines the history of migration to and from Williamson County in the Black community. Topics will include the earliest slaves in the county, the reconstruction era exodus, the impacts of war, and modern immigration into Williamson County for industry, sports, and more. The exhibit is held in the 2nd floor Special Collections department at 1516 Columbia Ave. in Franklin, and will run from Feb. 2nd – 28th in honor of Black History Month.

Also in honor of Black History Month, the library will be hosting a free lecture, “The African Diaspora through the Americas,” on Friday, February 20 at 2pm-4pm in the downstairs meeting room.  Jane Landers will lecture on her more than twenty years of research on the African Diaspora (a diaspora is a scattered population with a common origin in a smaller geographic area) in various parts of the Americas. Her graduate research on the first free black town in in the Americas (formed by runaways from South Carolina who fled to Spanish Florida) supported archaeological investigations, a National Landmark registry and a museum. Since then she has also worked on diasporic sites in Mexico, Cuba, Colombia and Brazil. Landers now directs an international effort to digitally preserve the oldest records for Africans in the Americas.

displayThis presentation will present an overview of the rise of the African slave trade and the subsequent diaspora of Africans through the Americas.  Main themes will include differences among European slave systems in the Spanish, Portuguese, English, and French colonies of the Americas and the resulting varieties of cultural expression and resistance of the enslaved.  You will also be introduced to the wide variety of evidence now available for studying the African diaspora in the Americas.

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For More information, contact the Special Collections Department on the 2nd floor – 615-595-1246

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