By Ashley Benkarski
MONTGOMERY COUNTY, TN — Freedom Day (August 8) in Clarksville got off to a resounding start this year with the installation of a series of historical markers honoring African Americans’ contributions throughout the region.
With four stops slated for unveiling the event took place at 11 a.m. on Sat., Aug.6 and stretched into the sweltering afternoon, but the heat couldn’t prevent people from coming to honor and learn the history that shaped Clarksville.
Frederick Murphy, a documentarian and historian, was there to film the entire event for his upcoming project, as was Middle Tennessee State University’s Jason McGowan, who was also present to preserve the celebration.
Family members of Pope G. Garrett, Sr. stand together in front of his historical marker. Front row l-r; Chloe Nave, Gayle Pospeschil, and Darrian Hightower; back row l-r; Marion Jelks, Perrion Roberts, Pope G. Garrett III; center; Crystle Garrett-Lackey, and Kenneth Garrett, Jr. Photo by Ashley Benkarski
Murphy, a Montgomery County native, helped spearhead the commission of the markers in time for Freedom Day.
The day’s events kicked off near Edith Pettus Park on the campus of Austin Peay with speakers from the family of Pope G. Garrett, whose marker is shared with the memory of his beloved Negro Fairgrounds.
A marker commemorating the accomplishments of the United States Colored Troops on the university campus was also slated to be revealed, but a production mistake in the sign’s wording caused a postponement in its unveiling date.
The next stop was the site of the Lincoln Homes, an affordable housing complex built in the 1940s that gave many Black families better lives through modern amenities and a chance at the “American dream.”
From there, attendees met in the heart of downtown Clarksville to unveil a marker at the site of its former slave market.
Finally the group traveled to Dunbar Cave, which was the site of a village built and maintained by freed people after emancipation called “Affricanna Town.”
The Negro Fairgrounds
“Montgomery County African Americans held an annual agricultural fair in Clarksville from 1948 to 1962. The fair showcased achievement in agriculture, home economics, wood crafts, art, and food ways. Its many entertainment events attracted thousands from Tennessee and Kentucky. The fair also provided a chance to reaffirm community and identity in the challenging Jim Crow era.”
Pope G. Garrett, Sr.
“Pope Garrett, Sr. was the board secretary of the Montgomery County Negro Agricultural Fair from its inception until its end in 1962. A leader within the African American community, Garrett was a Montgomery magistrate, a successful businessman, an active Free Mason, and Chairman of the Negro Progressive Club in Montgomery County. He insured the success of the yearly agricultural fair and was a central figure in the Clarksville community during the era of segregation.”
“Built in 1941 Lincoln Homes is the oldest public low-rent housing projects in Clarksville, Tennessee, which was initiated under the New Deal Federal Housing Administration (FHA). In 1950, under the auspices of FHA, Clarksville’s Housing Authority built two low-rent community housing projects. Lincoln Homes, constructed on Lee Street, was built for African Americans. The second low-rent housing units, Summit Heights, located on Richards Street was built for whites.
Both low-rent community housing projects consisted of 100 units and 19 buildings. Each apartment consisted of front and rear entrances, in-door plumbing, kitchen and bathroom facilities, electric lights, stoves, refrigerators, and heaters. The housing authority also included a playground, a community room, a maintenance building and trash pickup. The first applicants moved into the housing units in 1951.”
Clarksville’s Slave Market
“Prior to the Civil War, kept in a pen located on this corner, enslaved people waited to be sold at auction at the county courthouse. Prior to the fire of 1878, the courthouse stood on the north side of Franklin Street between 1st and 2nd. Enslavers also sold many of the people enslaved at the Market House located in the middle of the Public Square. In 1860, the enslaved population constituted almost half of the people living in Montgomery County. Clarksville’s tobacco industry especially profited from slave labor.”
The group gathers at the site of Clarksville’s former slave market at the corner of Franklin St. and 2nd.
“Following emancipation in Tennessee, freed people from surrounding areas took refuge inside U.S. military lines at Clarksville. Exercising their newfound freedom, they built a free, Black village near Dunbar Cave. A former enslaver called the settlement ‘Affricanna Town.’ Those who lived here built their own temporary homes and kept small garden plots.
It was mostly families of U.S. Colored Troops soldiers that lived at the village. The village was separate from the refugee camp in Clarksville managed by the U.S. military and was not subjected to the refugee camp’s poor conditions. Many in the African American community in Montgomery County today are descended from these survivors of enslavement.”
Another unveiling ceremony is expected to take place when the U.S. Colored Troops sign is fixed and installed.
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