by Justin Darden
Middle Tennessee’s city of Springfield witnessed a festival including the production of a new play bring people from all different backgrounds together on Aug. 6. It was a day of fun and entertainment, while celebrating the lives of two famous residents and educators telling the story of an inner-city, African American school.
The annual Come Together Day festival was held on the grounds of the proposed Bransford Community Center in Springfield, and it was free and open to the public. The festival started off with a street parade at 10 am, followed by a festival that kicked off at noon with live music performances, food and crafts from local vendors.
Before the start of the festival, the community put on a production of An Evening with Lena Bransford and John L. Patterson, which told the story of the two most influential African American educators in Springfield. Tamisha Martin, who portrayed Lena Bransford, said she was presented with an opportunity to portray Bransford in 2020 by the Robertson County Historical Society in the play An Evening in Elmwood (referring to Springfield’s Elmwood Cemetery). Martin described her as “an amazing woman who did amazing things.”
“She was a goal-oriented, God-fearing, legacy-leaving, no-nonsense, earth-shaking woman. She had such a love and passion for her children and for education, even taking money out of her own pocket to make sure they had the books and school supplies (even personal needs) required if their parents couldn’t afford it,” said Martin. “She was an all-around amazing woman with so much talent. She was willing to outpour herself into her community.”
Martin said were no African American people buried in Springfield’s Elmwood Cemetery (the city’s primary cemetery) until 1970—before Bransford. So the production of An Evening in Elmwood was a ‘first.’ But then the production was affected by the pandemic. First scheduled for June 2020, it was moved to October 2020. Martin said Lena Bransford was a selfless person, willing to give up her time and money to the community and her students.
The Bransford Community Center is dedicated in her honor.
“She left behind the legacy of togetherness, to come together and build something great,” said Martin. “Family or not, you were family to her. Anything she could do for you, she did.”
Danny Atchley, producer and director of An Evening with Lena Bransford and John L. Patterson, said he was attracted to the play because he wanted people to celebrate the lives and achievements of Springfield’s African American characters, because “they were just as important as historical characters in Springfield as any other residents.”
Atchley said the best way to describe Lena Bransford was to understand her upbringing. She was born in 1870 to parents who had been slaves before the Civil War. Lena was willing to overcome any obstacle, eventually graduating from college in 1888. John L. Patterson also grew up in Springfield and overcame many obstacles. Atchley said the story of Patterson was added to Bransford’s story, creating a full-length play with music.
“John L. Patterson was innovative in his way of teaching, but he was also a motivator,” said Atchley. “He made sure the kids were doing everything they could. He made sure they were dressed correctly. He was a role model. He was revered by the students of Bransford High School and by other African Americans in the community.”
According to the Bransford Community Center website, the city of Springfield has donated $1,000,000 to be used for the construction of the community center. The Bransford Board has completed the designs for the first phase of the center. Construction on the Bransford Community Center is expected to begin in early 2023.