Joe Howard sculpture of Black Civil War soldier unveiled in Tennessee


Joe Howard is old enough to remember being told as a child that he couldn’t play on a certain playground because he was black.

And that he had to use an outdoor bathroom at the courthouse or a back door to enter his favorite theater when he visited his native Paris, Tennessee.

The 73-year-old artist, who lives in Linden, still has vivid memories of how Jim Crow’s segregation laws affected him. It made it all the more moving when he saw a statue he created of an African-American Civil War soldier unveiled in Tennessee this month.

“Some of these soldiers escaped slavery so they could fight this war,” said Howard, who moved to Columbus from Tennessee as a young child. “It’s pretty powerful – doing what they did in the hope of changing. Their walk is what allowed me to do what I do.

Life-size bronze statue of a black soldier placed to balance the Confederate monument

It titled the play “March to Freedom” and the dedication of it in the town square in Franklin, Tennessee (about 10 miles from Nashville) has been covered by media such as CNN and The New York Times, as well as by international publications.

The life-size bronze statue of a United States Colored Troops (USCT) soldier stands approximately 50 yards from a large monument commemorating the Battle of Franklin that decimated the Tennessee army and Confederate troops in 1864.

The controversy surrounding this Confederate monument is what led the Franklin, Tennessee-based Fuller Story group to commission the statue from Howard.

Chris Williamson, a pastor from Franklin, said Fuller Story was formed in 2017 amid talks to remove or relocate the Confederate statue. Williamson and another black pastor joined two white men in Franklin to find the best way to tackle issues of raising awareness of the history of the area, especially as it relates to slavery, civil war, and race. .

Sculptor Joe Howard, second from right, looks at the statue he created during the unveiling and dedication ceremony on October 23 in Franklin, Tennessee.

“Eric Jacobson – he’s a historian – he gave a perspective that I hadn’t considered,” said Williamson, 53. “What can we put in place, instead of what can we take apart? To be clear, there are statues that need to come down, but the statue in our town is not for a specific person. It is for those in the Confederate Army who died and who were associated with Franklin.

In other words, they wanted to tell the whole story, which includes the African-American experience before, during and after the Civil War.

The Fuller Story Project raised $ 150,000 to place four markers in the square to commemorate a former courthouse where slaves were bought and sold, the Battle of Franklin, the city’s race riot in 1867 and the reconstruction. They also planned a monument to honor the colored troops of the United States.

“He didn’t just want a representation of a soldier. He wanted art ‘

Williamson said he met various artists before a professor at nearby Vanderbilt University suggested Howard.

“We saw his work, his skills, his excellence – and he was eclectic,” said Williamson. “He paints but also sculpts. Then I saw he was from Paris, Tennessee, which is about two and a half hours from here.

The eight-foot statue represents a bearded soldier, weapon in hand, almost as if he were on the move.

“He didn’t just want a portrayal of a soldier,” Williamson continued. “He wanted art – art that depicts a USCT soldier. ”

Howard, a graduate of Columbus College of Art and Design, has painted, sculpted and created art for more than five decades. However, he had never attempted a piece of this magnitude.

He said it took him almost a year to complete the project. He found a Civil War reenactor to lend him clothes from which to model the soldier’s outfit.

Pieces of "Walk to freedom" statue ready to be assembled.

The inspiration for the real face came when Howard saw a neighbor in Linden mowing the lawn.

Sculpture of a complex of Black Civil War soldiers under construction, rich in meaning

Howard usually works in a studio in the garage of the house he owns across the street from his house, but heating issues forced him to sculpt clay in his dining room, which he did with the blessing from his wife, Laura.

Beyond the figure, the sculpture also contains a tree stump on which the soldier rests his foot, mud and buried chains.

Each of these elements has a meaning, Howard said. The stump represents trees to which slaves were tied and beaten or where blacks lynched.

“The irons, the chains are lightly buried and in pieces – broken,” Howard said. “This shows that man will never be chained like a wild animal again but will be treated like a human.”

The piece was one of the most complicated that Alan Cottrill’s team from Coopermill Bronzeworks in Zanesville worked on, given the artist’s attention to detail.

“There was a lot of detail in the chains, the ornamentation, the accessories,” said Cottrill, owner of the foundry and sculptor specializing in military and historical figures. “Technically, it was a pretty tough piece.”

Still, Cottrill was more than happy to help Howard, someone he has known for 15 years.

“I am very happy for Joe,” Cottrill said. “It means the world to him, and it was an honor to work with him on something that will be there for decades to come.”

Howard said it was uplifting to see the hundreds of people of all races attending the unveiling and being moved by the statue, not to mention all of the news stories about the project that were shared around the world.

After all these years of work and, at times, struggle in his craft – he even almost gave up on art once – he said it was a lesson in humility to finally receive this type of recognition, especially for a also special piece.

Sculptor Joe Frank Howard becomes moved as he delivers remarks on October 23 at the historic unveiling and dedication of the statue of a United States Trooper of Color in Franklin, Tennessee.

Howard said he hoped it would make his Linden neighborhood proud and that the statue would serve as a place for people to start healing.

“Right now people of color – we don’t have any heroes to look up to,” Howard said. “Young people, people in their twenties – and that’s where I’m moved – they say, yes, we need it.

“To have something like that and to have these conversations is a wonderful thing. ”

Howard and Williamson said they hope people will now tell the mostly untold stories of the 200,000 black soldiers who fought in the USCT.

This statue, they said, is one of the few nationwide depicting African-American soldiers during the Civil War. Compare that to dozens and dozens of Confederate monuments all around the South and elsewhere, Williamson said.

“It’s a big win for us because representation matters,” said Williamson. “If you’re used to being represented all the time, you might think, ‘Why the big deal? “This is a big deal.”

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