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Nashville Zoo gets national attention for exhibit on site's Black history

Morton family
Posted at 7:18 PM, Jul 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-19 22:38:51-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Tell every story. Tell the full story. A Nashville institution is committing themselves to those words as they share a history you may not know. The history one place is sharing is getting national attention.

"This land was in the same family for five generations from 1810 to 1985," said zoo historic site manager Tori Mason, walking across the property of the Grassmere Historic Home.

"We believe the first burial was sometime in the 1830s," she said, looking over a family cemetery.

The stories she shares aren't limited to the family who owned the land.

"There were an average of 30 to 35 enslaved people who lived here from 1810 to emancipation, who lived and worked here at Grassmere," said Mason. "Around 1919, around the time of World War I, one of the fourth generation owners, Leila Shute Tigert, her husband, Dr. Holland Tigert, was fighting in WWI in France. He was a surgeon, but [Leila] needed help. She hired Frank Morton in 1919 to be on land as a tenant farmer to help in the farming."

Frank and son Albert Morton were among the members of the Black tenant family who lived and worked on the property for decades.

"Frank was here until he died in 1962, and he actually lived in this cabin with his family," said Mason. "If it had not been for the assistance of the Morton family and the work they put in, this farm would not have survived."

An exhibit at Grassmere to remember the influence of the enslaved and later the Morton family has just been given an award of excellence from the American Association for State and Local History.

"It's important to tell the full story, even if it's stories that are hard to tell and are hard to hear," said Mason.

For a place that's seen so much change over so many years, Mason's glad she gets to tell every story.

"Every day, so proud every day," she said.