Martha Gerdeman


It just happens that I am writing this column on Juneteenth. I have known about the Juneteenth celebration for a number of years, but apparently, it’s something new for most Americans who share my skin color.

On June 19, 1865, troops commanded by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, where he proclaimed to the enslaved black people that they were free. They had actually been free for 2½ years, but no one had shared the news with them. That is why to this day African Americans celebrate June 19 as their day of independence.

It also happens to be the ribbon cutting for a new Smithsonian exhibit at the Promise Land Community. The exhibit “Crossroads: Change in Rural America” will be at the community center for several weeks.

This is the third or fourth traveling exhibit at Promise Land and at least the second from the Smithsonian Institute. The exhibit has been shown at only five other sites in Tennessee and for Promise Land to get it is a real plum!

Anyone above a certain age can remember when a number of thriving small communities were scattered across Tennessee. Where did they go?

First came the Great Depression, when hundreds of families — especially black families — migrated north to find employment. Then in the 1950s came the interstate highways. Suddenly it became simple to make the trip from Tennessee to Cincinnati or Detroit or other large cities where jobs were plentiful and much better paid.

One of those thriving small communities was Promise Land, which dates back to the immediate post-Civil War period. Land had been set aside for formerly enslaved people, including a tract of 1,000 acres in Civil District 6. A number of former members of the U.S. Colored Troops began to settle there and it grew into a thriving little town. Before 1900 there were three churches, two stores and a grade school, and the main road from Charlotte to Clarksville went through the community.

A change came about 1920. Veterans of World War I and others suffering from the Great Depression began moving north and the community began to wither. In the 1950s the elementary school was swallowed up by consolidation and by 1980 only four descendants of the early settlers still lived there.

In recent years the Promise Land Historic Association was formed and in 2007 the community was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

So back to the exhibit, which is jointly sponsored by the Smithsonian’s Traveling Exhibition Service and the Tennessee Humanities Council. It highlights the changes in small town rural America. That should interest many Dickson Countians … those old enough to remember past decades here and those too young to.

I learned when I was teaching high school that probably a majority of students don’t really know much about the nation’s history, let alone that of the county. My personal theory is that they don’t really understand that history is stories, not just dates of battles and names of dead white men. This exhibit tells those stories and the kids need to know what they are.

Now you want to know where Promise Land is located. I explain it this way: Go through Charlotte on Highway 48 N. When you pass the Eubank Paving Company (where all the big red trucks are), go about a mile farther to St. Paul Road. Turn right and go to the old St. Paul Presbyterian church building. (It is now the headquarters of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.)  Turn left onto Promise Land Road and just keep going until you get there. If you are coming from the north on Hwy. 48, watch for the Promise Land sign, then turn left onto St. Paul Road instead of right.

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