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MTSU plays role in new museum honoring former slave’s ‘hard bargain’

A rare aspect of American history is on display thanks to the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area and MTSU students and staffers.

The McLemore House African-American Museum, located in Franklin, Tenn., sits on the corner of 11th Avenue North and Glass Street, across from Johnson Elementary School, in the city's renowned "Hard Bargain" neighborhood. A new historic display, created with help from MTSU students and staff, will be unveiled April 19. (Photo courtesy of VisitFrankin.com)

The McLemore House African-American Museum, located in Franklin, Tenn., sits on the corner of 11th Avenue North and Glass Street, across from Johnson Elementary School, in the city’s “Hard Bargain” neighborhood. A new historic display, created with help from MTSU students and staff, will be unveiled April 19. (Photo courtesy of VisitFranklin.com)

“Building a Future — The Journey from Slavery to Freedom” was unveiled April 19 at the McLemore House African-American Museum, 446 11th Ave. N. in Franklin, Tennessee. The museum is now open for tours on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Harvey McLemore was a slave owned by former Confederate cavalry officer W.S. McLemore, who also was a lawyer and judge.

In 1880, as a free citizen, Harvey McLemore purchased land from the judge and built the home where the museum is now located. The house served as home to Harvey McLemore and his descendants for 117 years.

McLemore later purchased more lots, subdivided the 15-acre property and began selling building lots to other former slaves, creating an entire middle-class African-American neighborhood of teachers, carpenters, masons and farmers around the McLemore House.

Because McLemore reportedly had driven a “hard bargain” with the judge for his land, the neighborhood, bordered by 11th Avenue North, Mt. Hope Street, 9th Avenue North and Green Street in Franklin’s downtown area, became known as “Hard Bargain.”

Harvey McLemore’s daughter, Mary McLemore Matthews, seated, and Harvey’s great-granddaughter, Ora Mai Hughes Manier, pose for an undated snapshot. (Photo courtesy of the Heritage Foundation of Franklin and Williamson County)

Harvey McLemore’s daughter, Mary McLemore Matthews, above, and his great-granddaughter, Ora Mai Hughes Manier, pose for an undated snapshot. (Photo courtesy of the Heritage Foundation of Franklin and Williamson County)

“Harvey McLemore’s success anchored the Hard Bargain neighborhood and played a key role in Franklin’s recovery after the Civil War,” said Laura Holder, federal liaison for the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area, which is administered by MTSU’s Center for Historic Preservation.

This sign erected near the McLemore House African-American Museum in Franklin, Tenn., by the Williamson County Historical Society explains the history of the "Hard Bargain" neighborhood.

This sign erected near the McLemore House African-American Museum in Franklin, Tenn., by the Williamson County Historical Society explains the history of the “Hard Bargain” neighborhood.

Residents, neighbors and other supporters created an organization in 2006 called the Hard Bargain Association, which focuses on preserving the historic neighborhood by rehabbing existing homes, building affordable new homes and turning a cemetery caretaker’s old house into a popular community center called “Ty’s House.”

Heritage Area staff and MTSU students wrote the text for the new McLemore House Museum display with research assistance from the African-American Heritage Society, and MTSU’s Office of Creative and Visual Services designed the display.

“The Harvey McLemore story is a remarkable one, and we are grateful to the MTSU team and others for their hard work and for the great job they have done working with us on this project,” said Alma McLemore, president of the African-American Heritage Society, a nonprofit organization that administers the McLemore House museum.

Other partners in creating the exhibit include the Williamson County Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Heritage Foundation of Franklin and Williamson County, the Battle of Franklin Trust and Franklin’s Charge Inc.

For more information about the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area, contact Dr. Antoinette Van Zelm, assistant director of the Center for Historic Preservation, at 615-898-2947 or antoinette.vanzelm@mtsu.edu.

To learn more about the McLemore House African-American Museum, call 615-305-0904.

— Gina K. Logue (gina.logue@mtsu.edu)

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