THE PROMISE LAND COMMUNITY
The years after the Civil War were joyous ones for freedmen who established a community known as Promise Land near Charlotte, Tenn.
Things were starting to come together by 1867, but by the 1880s it was a self-sustaining operation, with churches, stores, and perhaps most importantly, a school started by United States Colored Troops Veteran John Nesbitt, with the pension he received for his war service and wounds.
It was an adult school, at first, set up in Mr. Nesbitt's home to help former slaves acclimate to freedom. But by the early 1880s, the community had bought property and built a new school building. In 1899, it was deeded to the Dickson County Board of Education.
The school continued to serve residents--from ages 5 to 21--until 1957, and at its peak had an enrollment of more than 100 students. In fact, in the 1920s, overflow classes were also held in the church, with grades K-5 in the morning and 6-8 in the afternoon.
In the years after World War I, and leading up to the Great Depression, a mass migration was underway. African Americans from Dickson County and elsewhere across the South were headed to the northern cities--Chicago, Detroit, New York--to pursue a more industrial future.
Serina Gilbert is the volunteer executive director of the Promise Land Community Club, the organizer of tours and leader of fundraising efforts that supported the restoration of the schoolhouse that now serves as a community center. With roots that run deep, she has unique perspective into the cultural shifts that occurred.
"Around this time, folks were two generations from slavery," Gilbert says. "They were not attracted to the agrarian society. The same thing happened after World War II. Whole families were uprooted."
Gilbert says about 10 families were left around the time of Civil Rights movement, and with school integration in 1965 the Promise Land School became a community center. Unfortunately, it fell into disrepair.
But the Promise Land Community Club was formed in 1998, with a mission to restore the building and revitalize the community. The Promise Land Festival was started in 2000, and is now held each June on the property. Other reunions and living history events are also held there, and Gilbert conducts tours for dozens of school groups each year.
A Gospel Explosion fundraising event is being planned for March, and the two-day Promise Land Festival event is set for the first weekend in June.
Gilbert says it's been a labor of love, and that the Club has expanded to include not just family members, but also the general public. Three original families remain in the area.
"We have big plans for the future and we love to share our story with visitors," she says. "It's an important part of Dickson County's history, and we're excited to have been able to preserve it for future generations."
To learn more or schedule a tour, contact Gilbert at (615) 707-2130 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.