Wisdom of the Elders comes to Lebanon

Sinclaire Sparkman • Updated Oct 31, 2017 at 9:00 AM

About 20 people gathered at the Lebanon-Wilson Chamber of Commerce office on Saturday to discuss preserving African-American history in Wilson County. 

The Wilson County Black History Committee welcomed Brooke Hazen with Vanderbilt’s Wisdom of the Elders program to talk about how the program works. 

“The point is that you get to share your ideas, you get to share your wisdom, share you love and you get to pass that on to the generations. It’s a way of preserving it,” Hazen said.  

The program has worked for many years in Murfreesboro, where members created various types of materials like paintings, quilts, poetry, woodwork and more to portray history. Wisdom of the Elders won the 2013 Tennessee Parks and Recreation award for best program in the state in the intergenerational, senior or youth category. A group in New Orleans recently welcomed the program to help them make a cookbook. Now, Wilson County hopes to create its own unique works to show the history of African Americans in the county. 

In 1999, the WCBHC published the book, “In Our Own Voices: An Account of the Presence of African Americans in Wilson County.” Members of the committee interviewed many people to get accounts of pieces of Wilson County history at risk of it becoming lost. The WCBHC formed in 1994 and also celebrated its 23rd anniversary at the event.

The committee hopes the Wisdom of the Elders program can help them publish a second history book.

“We’re proud of that book, and I think we’ll be just as proud of the next one,” said WCBHC president Mary McAdoo Harris.  

It was the creating of “In Our Own Voices” that formed the committee, and founding member Roy Bailey is remembered as a major part of the effort. 

“Roy Bailey kept us focused, because he kept saying what we needed to do and how we needed to do it,” said Patricia W. Lockett, longtime member of the WCBHC.  

“He drove me all over this county to interview people. I interviewed probably more than 70-75 people, closer to 100. He would identify people and tell me why they were important to the history of Wilson County. I learned so much from that endeavor.”

Bailey died before the book was published, and the committee set up the Roy Bailey African American History Center in his name. The restoration of Pickett Chapel, a historic church built by slaves in 1827 and purchased by freed African Americans after the Civil War, is the committee’s current project.

Members of the committee recalled stories of Pickett Chapel when, during the Civil Rights Movement, it was a meeting place for black members of the community. 

“Soon as I got in the building, a big brick came through the window, and it was a big picture window. We were trying to get behind a refrigerator so the bricks wouldn’t hit us, and they broke that window out until it was completely clean of glass,” said committee member Maggie Benson. “As soon as they got it clear, a guy jumped up in that window with a knife, and the only thing that saved us was a fellow in there with a gun. And so that man in the window ran back to his people. When the police came, they didn’t want to know if anyone was hurt. They wanted to know who in there had a gun. We had put that person out the side door, and he was gone.” 

This episode of history was known as “Bloody Night,” and Harris said it is stories like these that they hope to put in the second history book. 

“Our hope is to go more in depth with the second one,” Harris said. 

The committee bought Pickett Chapel in 2007 and recently paid off the mortgage. Volunteers with the committee replaced the roof and gutters, repaired the walls, floors and other important structural elements. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977, and the WCBHC continues to work to restore it. 

The committee plans to move the Roy Bailey African American History Center to Pickett Chapel when restoration is complete.

Cemeteries were also discussed during the meeting Saturday and could be included in the book, as well. 

For more information about the Wilson County Black History Committee and its work with the Wisdom of the Elders program, call 615-449-2911. Visit wilsoncountyblackhistory.org for more information about the committee’s work.


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