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“Free at Last” traveling exhibition on Emancipation and Reconstruction on display at Fort Defiance Civil War Park


Clarksville Parks and Recreation DepartmentClarksville, TN – For the last year of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area has expanded its traveling exhibition about emancipation and Reconstruction. “Free at Last!” tells the momentous story of the transition from slavery to freedom and the development of citizenship among formerly enslaved African Americans.

Doubled in size to eight banner stands, the exhibition now has panels focused on each of Tennessee’s three grand divisions. “Free at Last!” is available to museums and historic sites free of charge and is on view at the Fort Defiance Civil War Park and Interpretive Center in Clarksville from now to December 10th, 2015.

Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area's "Free at Last" traveling exhibition

“Free at Last!” debuted in February 2007 with two banner stands providing an overview of emancipation and Reconstruction in Tennessee. “Our goal was to provide sites with a concise, well-illustrated introduction to the significance of emancipation and the agency of slaves in bringing about their freedom,” says Antoinette van Zelm, assistant director of the Center for Historic Preservation.

At the beginning of the Sesquicentennial in 2011, the Heritage Area added two panels on West Tennessee that emphasized the connection between the Union army’s advance along the Mississippi River, the escape of thousands of slaves to Union lines, and the systematic establishment of contraband camps under Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. The West Tennessee panels were based on the Master’s thesis research of Center for Historic Preservation graduate research assistant Cheri LaFlamme Szcodronski.

More than forty venues across Tennessee have hosted “Free at Last!” thus far. Sites will now have the opportunity to share even more of the story with visitors. New panels on East Tennessee look at that region’s legacy of emancipation before the Civil War and consider how emancipation has been remembered in the region since the war. The Middle Tennessee panels highlight the development of Unionism among enslaved Tennesseans and underscore the significance of education and citizenship during Reconstruction.

The Heritage Area has also published a driving tour of Reconstruction sites across the state. “The driving tour goes hand in hand with the expanded exhibition to provide Tennessee residents and visitors with in-depth knowledge about this significant and often misunderstood period in Tennessee’s history,” says Leigh Ann Gardner, interpretive specialist for the Heritage Area.

The Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area receives funding from the National Park Service and is administered by the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee State University.

For more information about the exhibition, please contact Antoinette van Zelm at 615.898.2948.

About the Clarksville Parks and Recreation Department

The mission of the Clarksville Parks and Recreation Department is to provide a variety of positive recreational experiences to enhance life values for individuals, families, and our diverse culture.

To learn more, visit, like us on Facebook, or call 931.645.7476.




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