An educational exhibition created by the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area is available to communities in Tennessee free of charge. Entitled “Free at Last!” the 4-panel exhibition emphasizes the significance of emancipation as a result of the Civil War.
The first two panels give an overview of emancipation and Reconstruction in the state. “Free at Last! Emancipation and Reconstruction in Tennessee” provides an introduction to the joys and challenges shared by African Americans in Tennessee during the aftermath of slavery. The Reconstruction years were crucial to the development of African American communities throughout Tennessee. Former slaves founded scores of schools and churches. These two panels highlight some of the emancipation communities that are wonderfully preserved in our state.
The second two panels, added in 2011 for the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, focus on West Tennessee, where a groundbreaking contraband camp was established in Grand Junction in November 1862. “Free at Last: The Fight for Freedom in West Tennessee” calls attention to the agency of former slaves in bringing about their freedom during the Civil War. These two panels, which are based on the Master’s thesis research of Cheri Szcodronski, look at the intersection of Union military action and the influx of former slaves to Union lines. West Tennessee provides an important case study of wartime emancipation.
The “Free at Last” exhibition debuted in February 2007 at the 26th Annual Conference on African American History and Culture held at Tennessee State University in Nashville. The exhibition has since traveled to the Roy Bailey African American History Center in Lebanon, the Sam Davis Home in Smyrna, the Granville Museum in Jackson County, the McLemore House Museum in Franklin, Oaklands Historic House Museum in Murfreesboro, the Rutherford County Archives in Murfreesboro, the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center in Townsend, the Germantown Regional History and Genealogical Center, several churches in the Denmark and Mercer communities in West Tennessee, the Discovery Museum of West Tennessee in Jackson, the Green McAdoo Cultural Center in Clinton, the James E. Walker Library at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU), and Margaret Allen Middle School in Nashville. In addition, the exhibition has been on view at the Legacy of Stones River Symposium in Murfreesboro, the Civil War Preservation Trust Summer Teacher Institute in Chattanooga, the National Trust for Historic Preservation Conference in Nashville, the International Heritage Development Conference in Charleston, S.C., the MTSU Scholars Week Exposition in Murfreesboro, and the Journey from Slavery to Freedom: Emancipation During and After the Civil War Social Studies Camp in Murfreesboro.
The bannerstands (33 7/16” W x 78 ¾“ H) come with lights if necessary. The two sets of bannerstands (“Free at Last! Emancipation and Reconstruction in Tennessee” and “Free at Last! The Fight for Freedom in West Tennessee”) can be reserved together or separately. An accompanying scavenger hunt for students is also availableFor more information about the exhibition or to schedule it for your community, please contact Antoinette van Zelm at (615) 217-8013.