The MTSU-based Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area has expanded its traveling exhibition on emancipation and Reconstruction, which will be on display in Clarksville, Tennessee, from Jan. 6 to Feb. 26.
“Free at Last!” will be on view at the Customs House Museum and Cultural Center, located at 200 S. Second St. in Clarksville, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sundays. Public admission ranges from $7 for adults to $3 for children ages six to 18.
“Free at Last!” tells the momentous story of the transition from slavery to freedom and the development of citizenship among formerly enslaved African-Americans. In this final year of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the exhibit now has panels focused on each of Tennessee’s three grand divisions.
“Our goal was to provide sites with a concise, well-illustrated introduction to the significance of emancipation and the agency of slaves in bringing about their freedom,” said Antoinette van Zelm, programs manager at the Center for Historic Preservation at MTSU, which administers the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area.
The exhibit debuted in February 2007 with two displays providing an overview of emancipation and Reconstruction in Tennessee.
At the beginning of the Civil War Sesquicentennial in 2011, the Heritage Area added two panels on West Tennessee that emphasized the connection between the Union army’s advance along the Mississippi River, the escape of thousands of slaves to Union lines, and the systematic establishment of contraband camps under Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.
The West Tennessee panels were based on the master’s thesis research of Center for Historic Preservation graduate research assistant Cheri LaFlamme Szcodronski.
New panels on East Tennessee look at that region’s legacy of emancipation before the Civil War and consider how emancipation has been remembered in the region since the war. The Middle Tennessee panels highlight the development of Unionism among enslaved Tennesseans and underscore the significance of education and citizenship during Reconstruction.
More than 40 venues across Tennessee have hosted “Free at Last!” so far. Organizers said the expanded display, now consisting of eight panels, will give sites the opportunity to share even more of the story with visitors.
Later in 2015, the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area will publish a driving tour of Reconstruction sites across the state.
“When completed, the driving tour will go hand in hand with the expanded exhibition to provide Tennessee residents and visitors with in-depth knowledge about this significant and often misunderstood period in Tennessee’s history,” said Leigh Ann Gardner, interpretive specialist for the Heritage Area.
The Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area receives funding from the National Park Service and is administered by the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee State University. For more information about the exhibition, please contact van Zelm at 615-494-8869.