by Justin Darden
A local historical organization honored the lives and legacy of two local educators who made a difference in the lives of local children in Robertson County by presenting a play telling the story of how they became famous during a turbulent time in American history on February 19, 2023.
An Evening with Miss Lena and Mr. Patterson was presented by the Robertson County Historical Society on February 16-19 at the Springfield Middle School Auditorium as part of Black History Month. The play told the story of local African American educator Lena Bransford, a Springfield, Tenn. elementary school teacher. She was born and raised by former slaves, then moved to Springfield gaining an education and graduating from college. She was the namesake for Bransford Elementary School and Bransford High School, the only African American high school in Robertson County from 1939-1970, when Robertson County Schools were integrated. The play also told the story of John L. Patterson, who was the principal of Bransford High School.
Gary Noel, who played the role of John L. Patterson, said he decided to get involved with the play by participating in a local event series ‘An Evening in Elmwood,’ which showcased historical figures from Robertson County by bringing in local actors to portray real-life figures. Danny Atchley, who wrote, produced, and directed the play, said there wasn’t much information on Lena Bransford, but there was considerable information on John L. Patterson.
Research conducted by the Robertson County Historical Society with assistance from African American historian John L. Baker said that Lena Bransford was born in 1870 to former slaves. Her father became a barber after moving to Springfield after the Civil War. Bransford went on to graduate from college and moved back to Springfield where she became an elementary school teacher for 60 years.
“I feel like they have contributed a lot to this community,” said Martin. “They definitely put a stamp on education, in that ‘it’s not a choice; it’s a must.’ I feel like education has been a major stamp on, not only the African American community but kids of all nationalities and races.”
When asked about how Bransford overcame the obstacles in her life, including segregation and the Jim Crow era, Atchley said that she worked very hard to achieve the education she needed to become a school teacher. Tamisha Martin, who portrayed Lena Bransford, said that the impact Bransford and John L. Patterson had on the Springfield community proved “very positive on African Americans and other races.” The play also included a children’s choir made up of different races and ethnicities.
Atchley described doing the research for the play as a difficult challenge, but with assistance from historians such as Baker and Ted Jamison, a Bransford High School alum, the RCHS was able to get a copy of the speech Patterson gave to the BHS class of 1947 and pictures of the students who attended Bransford High School during his tenure as principal. Atchley said the impact Bransford and Patterson had on the community was enormous and very positive.
Proceeds from the play go towards the construction of the Bransford Community Center in Springfield, which is named after Lena Bransford.