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America’s Got Talent’s Quintavious Johnson sings “To God be the Glory” at the 12th annual Juneteenth Celebration hosted by The African American Heritage Society at the McLemore House Museum in Franklin, Tenn., Saturday, June 17, 2017.
Josie Norris / The Tennessean

FRANKLIN — Four women sat on the porch of the storied McLemore House on 11th Avenue North in Franklin Friday as historian Tina Jones recounted the life of Freeman Thomas in his own words.

Thomas, a slave in Franklin who was freed following the Emancipation Proclamation and later served in the Union Army, told his story to interviewers in the early 1900s.

This was his firsthand testimony. Unlike the words of a historian or pictures shown in a museum, they were intimate, and sitting on the porch of the historic home it was as though the listeners too were transported, taking in this man’s sorrows and even his occasional joys.

Somehow the “old folks,” meaning the older slaves, knew that they were going to be free, Freeman said, and that they even sang songs about it when the last generation of slaves just thought it was a dream.

“That just says so much to their faith,” said Jenny Peach as she listened. “They knew they were going to be free.” 

More: Juneteenth: Freedom from slavery celebrated in Williamson County

Alma McLemore, president of the African American Heritage Society which has partnered with the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area for a new exhibit on Harvey McLemore, the home’s original owner and also a freed slave, said this was the kind of experience she wants for visitors to this house turned African-American history museum.

A step inside and one is transported through history as well, from the furniture and decorations to panels that depict the journey of local African-Americans who have made substantial contributions advancing the causes of freedom and equality.

“We want people to come through this museum and to see the other histories of these incredible people,” said McLemore, a distant relative of the man for which the museum is named. “Harvey McLemore was freed and then purchased this land and built this home after more than three decades of slavery and here we stand. Williamson County was built on the backs of slaves and this house is a testament to those people.”

The museum is open on Friday’s from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children.

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Reporter Jordan Buie can be reached at 615-726-5970 or by email at jbuie@tennessean.com. Follow him on Twitter @jordanbuie.

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