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Updates

April 2020:

While we have been working remotely during the Covid-19 crisis, the FNDP wanted to provide you with a quick update. Now that all of our videos are available on the FNDP YouTube channel, we have turned our attention towards developing an online archive containing not only the videos, but the photographs and historical artifacts that we collected over the course of our interviews. We are excited to share these with you once the website is completed! We are also working on developing online exhibits so that people can view our materials from anywhere in the world. We also want to remind you that while you are social distancing, you can take a virtual tour of Fort Negley! The tour was written by FNDP’s own Juliet Larkin-Gilmore and Destiny Hanks and is narrated by one of the Fort’s descendants, Gary Burke. It also features clips from Dr. Eleanor Fleming. You can access it here: https://nashvillesites.org/tours/2d24d368-38f6-41e1-87ee-12ddc4300343 Stay safe and we look forward to sharing more updates with you in the coming months!

January 2020

Happy New Year! The FNDP is excited to kick off 2020 by sharing our most recent interviews! There are four new videos, featuring descendants and supporters of Fort Negley. Follow this link to access our channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCFb2W84osCaFrvPbm1ydKBw.

We want to extend a huge thank you to Lesa Dowdy of LeeDowdy Visuals for her work editing the videos. We also want to thank all of the descendants who took time to sit and share their stories with us. It has been a privilege to learn from them.

Without further ado, here are the videos:

Mr. Bill Radcliffe

Bill Radcliffe is a long time living history interpreter of the Civil War era at Fort Negley. In his interview he discusses his ancestor Edward Ratcliff, a black Union soldier who won a medal of honor for his bravery at Yorktown during the Civil War.

The Johnson Family 

The Johnson family – Sabrina Johnson-Gresham, Carmen Johnson, Felix Carlos Harding-Johnson, and Charles Johnson III – share the story of their ancestor James Harding, Sr., a laborer at Fort Negley. The four siblings reflect on their memories of growing up with some of James Harding’s direct descendants in Nashville and the sacrifices that they made so that their families could have a better life.

Are you a descendant of Fort Negley? Parts 1 and 2

Many African-Americans in the Nashville-Davidson area are descendants from soldiers or laborers of Fort Negley. Taneya Koonce, the President of the Nashville chapter of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society sat down with the FNDP’s own Destiny Hanks to share some tips for researching African-American genealogy.

December 2019:

This month we had the pleasure of sharing our most recent interviews with our descendants and supporters of the project. The event, held at the Fort Negley Visitors Center, was an opportunity for us to gather together and celebrate the Fort’s legacy.

Our first video featured Taneya Koonce, the President of the Nashville chapter of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society. She sat down with the FNDP’s own Destiny Hanks to share some tips for researching African American genealogy and to explore some of Destiny’s own family tree.

We also debuted our interview with Bill Radcliffe, a long time living history interpreter of the Civil War era at Fort Negley. In his interview he discusses his ancestor Edward Ratcliff, a black Union soldier who won a medal of honor for his bravery at Yorktown during the Civil War.

Finally, we heard from the Johnson family – Sabrina Johnson-Gresham, Carmen Johnson, Felix Carlos Harding-Johnson, and Charles Johnson III – whose ancestor James Harding, Sr. was a laborer at Fort Negley and remained in Nashville after the Civil War. The four siblings reflect on their memories of growing up with some of James Harding’s direct descendants and the sacrifices that they made so that their families could have a better life.

We look forward to sharing all of these videos with you in the new year!

The descendants of Egbert and Ruffin Bright in attendance at the Viewing Party.
Carmen Johnson (far right) and Sabrina Johnson-Gresham (second from right in front) were featured in the Johnson family video. They were joined by their family at the viewing.
Destiny Hanks of the FNDP introducing the videos.

November 2019:

The FNDP has been busy this month! In addition to work on our new descendant videos, we have had the opportunity to participate in some special events at the Fort. On Saturday November 2nd, the FNDP participated in a flag planting, during which descendant Gary Burke and other volunteers planted 2,771 representative flags in memory of those who helped build the fort. Gary and friend of the project Mona Frederick also spoke on the importance of honoring the laborers.

    

The following day, we had the fortune of witnessing test pit digging at the Bass Street Archaeology Project, headed by Dr. Andrew Wyatt of MTSU. The dig is taking place where the surviving formerly enslaved and free black builders and defenders of Fort Negley settled after the war.

   

September 2019:

The FNDP has been hard at work this past month editing a new batch of videos. We have two new descendant videos in progress and an exciting tutorial with the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society. Thanks to our Mellon Foundation grant funds we were able to hire Nashville filmmaker Lesa Dowdy to edit the footage. We are very excited to have Lesa as part of our team and look forward to sharing the finished products with you this fall!

Summer 2019: 

The Fort Negley Descendants Project has had an exciting summer!

In June, Co-Director Angela Sutton spoke on behalf of the FNDP at two Juneteenth celebrations in Nashville. For those who are unfamiliar, Juneteenth is a celebration that commemorates the ending of slavery on June 19th, 1865. On June 18th, Angela was part of We Remember Nashville’s Week of Remembrance at the Civil Rights Room, located in the downtown public library. The following day she spoke to a packed house at Fort Negley! We are grateful for these opportunities to share the descendants’ stories with the community, especially during such an important celebration.

Flyer for Fort Negley Juneteenth Celebration
Courtesy of We Remember Nashville. Pictured are Dr. Learotha Williams of TSU, Dr. Angela Sutton of the FNDP, Brittany Paschall of Nashville Leadership Project & We Remember Nashville, and Justin Lang of Black Lives Matter & Brown University.

May 2019:

Gary Burke in USCT uniform with "Nashville Blacks in the Civil War" placard outside Fort Negley, no date
Gary Burke in USCT uniform with “Nashville Blacks in the Civil War” placard outside Fort Negley | no date

May has been a wonderful month for FNDP and Fort Negley. On May 2, the Nashville Scene published a profile on the Descendants Project, featuring Angela, Juliet, Destiny, and Gary Burke.  

Photo of James Harding Senior
James Harding Sr. | Nashville Globe, Jan. 31, 1913

On May 4, Juliet, Angela, and Destiny interviewed four descendants of James Harding Sr., builder at Fort Negley and Fisk’s Jubilee Hall. Carmen, Sabrina, Felix, and William are siblings, so it was a unique chance for us to film the four of them discussing their family’s history. Tina Callahan Jones has been researching James Harding’s life and sharing her findings with the Johnsons. We’ll be editing the video, along with Bill Radcliffe’s, over the summer, so stay tuned for those in the fall!

UNESCO Slave Route Project, to learn more, visit: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/social-and-human-sciences/themes/slave-route/
UNESCO Slave Route Project, to learn more, visit: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/social-and-human-sciences/themes/slave-route/ 

On May 21, Fort Negley held a press conference announcing that Fort Negley had been selected as a Site of Memory for UNESCO’s Slave Route project! And it’s making waves across the US news! This designation has been years in the making. FNDP is very grateful to Jane Landers and Angela Sutton for compiling the extensive application, and to Friends of Fort Negley Board and the Nashville chapter of the NAACP for co-sponsoring.  At the conference, audience members heard from Mayor David Briley, Parks Director Monique Odom, Fort Negley Manager Krista Castillo, Friends of Fort Negley Board Director Chris Cotton, Professor of History at TSU Dr. Learotha Williams, Councilman John Cooper, Dr. Angela Sutton, Dr. Jane Landers, and Gary Burke.

To learn more about the UNESCO Slave Route Project, click here.

Photo of Fort Negley on May 21, 2019

Fort Negley, now a UNESCO Slave Route Project Site of Memory | May 21, 2019

April 2019:

April was a busy month for us. On April 11, Angela and Juliet interviewed Mr. Bill Radcliffe, longtime (maybe longest!) advocate for Fort Negley and its connections to Black history, surrounded by Shayne Davidson’s Seventeen Men portraits (see below). Originally from Detroit and a member of the 54th Massachusetts USCT Reenactors Group (of Glory fame), Radcliffe was drawn to the fort after relocating to Nashville. For years, he dress in his USCT uniform and come to Fort Negley to represent its history. He always came on the anniversary of the Battle of Nashville. We had a wonderful time interviewing this Fort Negley and living history legend. We’ll be editing his interview over the summer, so stay tuned for the full story!

On April 16-17, we hosted Shayne Davidson, the author and artist behind  Seventeen Men, a portrait series of men from the 25th Regiment of the USCT (on display now at Fort Negley). Davidson based the portraits on a very rare, very small (“gem” size) photograph album of the men she found while researching a friend’s genealogy. The album was unique both for the race of the soldiers pictured and because they were identified by name.  The family has since donated the album to the Smithsonian National Museum for African American History and Culture. At a speaking engagement at Tennessee State University on April 17, Davidson shared her discovery and the genealogical research she did on each of the men pictured, and the process for creating the images. Davidson stamped each portrait with a copy of their entry in the USCT descriptive records (which lists all Union soldiers’ physical descriptions and details about their enrollment). For her, this ensured that their names would always be attached to their pictures. Enslavement has made African American genealogy an emotionally and technically difficult process. Keeping the names and images together helps to rectify those research challenges and to properly honor the men of the 25th USCT.

   

April 2019:

This past week, we’ve had two collaborations with the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society (AAHGS), Nashville Chapter. Both were a blast!

March 2, 2019 | Bill Radcliffe and Gary Burke with AAHGS members during lunch at Fort Negley.

First, last Saturday we presented the FNDP at AAHGS monthly meeting which was held at Fort Negley Visitor’s Center auditorium. It was in that very room last April when we first met Taneya Koonce and learned about AAHGS. A full circle moment. As always, it was great to introduce Gary Burke and Eleanor Fleming to a new audience, made even more meaningful because Mr. Burke and Dr. Fleming’s aunt, Mrs. Carolyn Bright Worthy, were both in attendance. During the community discussion following our presentation, Mr. Bill Radcliffe, long-time advocate for Fort Negley and 13th USCT Living Historian, spoke about his work and his connection to the fort. It was a wonderful morning, made even richer by the fact that Shayne Davidson’s portraits of the 17 Men was on display in the auditorium.

March 7, 2019 | Taneya Koonce and Destiny Hanks discuss African American genealogical research. Juliet Larkin-Gilmore films and Angela Sutton (off-screen) takes notes at VU Center for Digital Humanities.

Tonight, we met up with Taneya Koonce at Vanderbilt’s Center of Digital Humanities to film a tutorial on genealogical research with a focus on African American families. Taneya and FNDP team member Destiny Hanks talked about finding ancestors in the public records including census rolls, military draft forms, vital records, Freedmen’s Bureau documents, obituaries, and Find-A-Grave. We can’t wait to upload the final product as a how-to video on our website. 

Up next, April event: A conversation with Shayne Davidson and USCT descendant Vanessa Tall (granddaughter of one of the men in Shayne’s 17 Men exhibit) at TSU. Details forthcoming.

February 2019: 

February 26, 2019 | Juliet leads Nashville Sites walking tour.

This semester, we’ve been working with wonderful new collaborators. Currently, we are testing a Fort Negley historic walking tour in partnership with Dr. Mary Ellen Pethel and Nashville Sites, a Metro Historical Commission Foundation (MHCF)-funded historic walking tour nonprofit. Our tour centers on the African American history of Fort Negley and features excerpts from our descendant interviews. We can’t wait to share it with everyone. On February 26, Friends of Fort Negley Board members, including Mr. Gary Burke, Dr. Pethel’s students from Belmont University, and Tracy Harris from Fort Negley joined Juliet on our first run-through of the tour script.

We have also been working with the Nashville chapter of the African American Historical and Genealogical Society to publicize the FNDP project and promote genealogical research.  We will be presenting and sharing at AAHGS-Nashville’s next meeting on Saturday, March 2 at 9:30am at the Fort Negley Visitors Center. Please join us!

In April, we are co-hosting an event with Dr. Lea Williams at TSU featuring Shayne Davidson, artist and author of Civil War Soldiers: Discovering the Men of the 25th United States Colored Troops. Davidson researched the biographies of seventeen USCT soldiers and created portraits of them. The portraits are on display now at the Fort Negley Visitors Center. More details to follow!

See what else Fort Negley is up to here.

Fall 2018: 

L-R: Destiny Hanks, Angela Sutton, and Juliet Larkin-Gilmore at Fort Negley, November 2018.

This semester, we said goodbye to Emma Furman, Kelsey Norris, and Kristina Lee who have left Vanderbilt for new adventures. In September, Oxford American published Kelsey’s brilliant essay on the Fort Negley Descendants Project. Click Here to read it.

We have also been fortunate enough to receive a Catalyst Creativity Grant from the Curb Center at Vanderbilt, which supports artistic endeavors on campus as well as “scholarly and digital resources to examine the impact of gentrification on our community and creative economies.”  These funds have enabled us to hire Vanderbilt undergraduate (and Nashville native) Destiny Hanks to help with this year’s projects. We’re grateful to the Curb Center and to Destiny for their support for FNDP.

What’s in store:

  1. We are working with nashvillesites.org (a Metro Historical Commission Foundation-supported historic walking tours program)  to create a walking tour of Fort Negley. We hope to integrate audio clips from the descendants’ interviews into the tour to create a well-rounded experience.
  2. We are working with the Nashville chapter of the African America Historical and Genealogical Society (AAHGS) to learn more about researching African American family histories and to hopefully connect local Nashvillians with their research expertise.
  3. We have some new screenings in the works for early 2019. More information will be forthcoming.

Thanks for your continued support!

Juliet, Angela, and Destiny