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Reunion celebrates more than 150 years of Black family owning their land in Maury County

Chavers family
Posted at 8:07 PM, Jul 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-25 21:40:05-04

MOUNT PLEASANT, Tenn. (WTVF) — A reunion commemorates 150 years of a family's story. That story has special significance to more than just that family. It's special to the history of the state and perhaps the whole country.

It's been a long time since everyone's been able to get up and dance together.

"Out here in 100 degree weather, nah, not today," laughed Joyce Acklen, watching the people at her family reunion. "Maybe I will back at the hotel under the air conditioning."

"Some of them I remember and some, I don't," said Gloria Ferguson, 93, looking over the crowd.

"We have gathered 16 times since 1972," added Carol Brunson Day.

Day, Acklen, Ferguson, and Nicole Leonard are just a few of the women who carry the story of their family.

"There are six or seven generations here," said Acklen.

The women remember being children on the family land in Maury County.

"I played there as a child," Acklen said. "We're talking the segregated south. To feel free, it was all family."

There's something truly special about this land and the family of Nicholas and Kissiah Chavers. The two were married in 1872, a Black couple in the post-Civil War south, living on their land.

"Grandpa Nick's father was a white slave owner," said Acklen. "His mother was a slave. She did not want him born into slavery, so Nicholas was born free."

"Nicholas Chavers inherited a 120-acre parcel of land from his father," added Day. "He deliberately chose a parcel of land away from the main road because he did not want the soldiers coming home from the Civil War to harass the Black male land owner."

This family's story is made more special when you look at the history of the country in the decades after the Civil War.

In 1910, Black farm owner-operators made up about 14% of farm owners in the US. According to a report by the Department of Agriculture, that number of Black farm owners dropped over the next century from a number of discriminatory laws, diminished civil rights, and intimidation. By the early 2000s, many Black farm owner-operators had left their land, making up about 1.3% of the country.

Nicholas Chavers in his will asked that his land never be sold outside the family, and it has stayed that way.

"He said, 'if you get in a tight squeeze, you thinking about selling the property, sell it to your cousins," said Acklen.

"The family members established themselves as responsible citizens in the community," said Day. "They helped to build this community that's around them."

In the old Chavers Cemetery, descendants placed flags to show the branches of the family. It's the 150-year anniversary of the marriage of Nicholas and Kissiah Chavers. Keeping these family connections and protecting the land are things this family says they will always do.

"The ancestors will come out of the cemetery if they don't," smiled Acklen.

"Oh my God, they'd come back and haunt us all!" laughed Leonard. "We are descendants of people who have a proud history and worked to keep this family together, and that's what draws us together. I am proud to be a Chavers. I feel really good to be on that land, because I know I belong somewhere. As long as there's breath in our bodies, we'll be there."