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The history of song

The Capitol Theatre was filled with music on Saturday afternoon as Lebanon residents celebrated Black History Month by learning about the lives of two Wilson County natives who were members of the original Fisk Jubilee Singers.

“Anything that’s played in the history of our community is important to me,” Lebanon resident Denise League said. “With the groundwork that’s been laid for those of us who live here now, it’s good to give honor to those who came before us.”

Thomas Rutling and Maggie Porter were both born into slavery in Wilson County. They both attended Fisk University and eventually became members of the Fisk Jubilee Singers after graduation.

Porter was 8 years old when she was brought to Nashville in 1861 with her family by slave owner Henry Frazier. When Frazier left in 1862 as Union soldiers were closing in, he left the residence with Porter and her mother.

“Maggie Porter fell in love by 1862 with gospel harmonies and hymns that resonated from the churches throughout the streets of Nashville,” historian Taylor Means said. “This was where and how she began developing her vocals as a soprano.”

Porter was admitted to Fisk when it opened in 1866 and graduated to become a teacher. After touring with a company for seven years, she returned to Nashville, where she joined Frederick Loudin’s company of Fisk Jubilee Singers, which was included with other alumni as oart the school’s original choir.

“The things I’m able to do and enjoy are due to the struggles of those who came before me,” League said. “I don’t want to forget that because many of the ones who came before me weren’t able to enjoy the things I do.”

After Rutling learned he was freed at the end of the Civil War, he travelled to Nashville and learned to read and write from his elder sister. He then began attending Fisk University for high school.

“Group singers were being conducted by George White, a veteran of the battle of Gettysburg and a former army union band sergeant almost from the beginning at Fisk Free Colored School,” historian Learotha Williams said. “Eventually, in summer 1867, they performed at its first fundraiser, collecting $400 in Nashville with abolitionist anthems.”

He attended high school there, paying for his tuition by working as a waiter. He joined the Fisk Jubilee Singers in 1871 as a tenor and toured alongside the group for seven years.

“I think it takes everyone working together to create harmony and love and respect for each other,” Wilson County Black History Committee President Mary Harris said. “I think the more you know about your past, the more we can be a community and concentrate on making Wilson County and Lebanon a better place.”

Learning to investigate

Students at Green Hill High School spent a class period last week collecting evidence and speaking to witnesses alongside Mt. Juliet Police Department detectives.

The investigative services division of the Mt. Juliet Police Department conducted a mock crime scene for criminal justice students at GHHS to prepare them for an upcoming competition.

Vickie Smith, the criminal justice teacher at GHHS, reached out to the department about interacting with her classes this semester. The mock crime scene that was set up by the Mt. Juliet Police Department was a part of the class.

“They set up an incident outside in the common area at GHHS that had some evidence left behind,” Mt. Juliet Police Department Public Information Officer Tyler Chandler said. “The students then had to demonstrate the skills of protecting the crime scene, isolating the witnesses and speaking to witnesses, identifying evidence, marking the evidence and then collecting the evidence.”

The department had previously given a presentation to the students on investigations and crime scene processing, so when detectives Jacob Dean and Jennings Taylor arrived for class, they split the students into three teams so that they could all interact with the crime scene that’d been set up.

“Each team had their own scene to process and roles on their team,” Dean said. “The scenario was simple but had enough pieces to allow them to work through the steps in processing a scene. These steps were covered in the classroom presentation previously. Each team’s scene was cordoned off with crime scene tape, had various pieces of evidence, and some fake blood to help simulate the scenario they were given.”

Students were given a brief review of the steps of processing a crime scene, and each student was assigned a role before they began to investigate.

“As they processed it, we, along with their teachers, gave minimal guidance,” Dean said. “For example, instead of telling them what the next step in the process was, we would ask what step they were on and what was next. This made them think and figure out the answer on their own. Once each team was done processing their scene, we debriefed with each team and discussed the process as well as the evidence they collected.”

The purpose of this debrief at the end of the exercise was to help students think beyond the process of collecting evidence to what that evidence could tell them about the investigation.

“Simply put, the students were not just given a lecture about the steps in processing a crime scene and conducting investigations,” Dean said. “They were given a hands-on opportunity to help learn that process. I cannot speak for them as to what they all took away. It is my hope they all learned about the process we go through to process a scene and start an investigation, that often reality and what they see on television differs, and about a few of the capabilities of our investigative services division.”

Interacting with students at GHHS through exercises like a mock crime scene was a familiar experience for Dean.

“When I was a criminal justice student in high school, I had similar experiences, so it is was nice to be able to give back,” Dean said. “Our department works hard to maintain a good relationship with the community, and this was another wonderful opportunity for us to continue building that with the future generations and future leaders.”

Senior center 'saves lives'

Not a month goes by where someone doesn’t tell Lebanon Senior Center Director Patti Watts that the center has saved their life.

“The majority of our group, their spouses have passed away,” Watts said. “Their children are grown, and their grandchildren are grown. They don’t have a purpose. They come to the center, and they find purpose. They volunteer. They help. They engage themselves in what’s going on there, and they become much happier.”

When the center was closed due to the pandemic, Watts said that she saw a decline in the health of the senior members of the community.

“Once we opened back up, and they began to come back and be together and laugh again and find that spirit again, their health has increased tremendously,” Watts said “I’ve been able to witness that first-hand. The isolation was terrible on the senior population.”

The biggest difference that Watts says that the senior center makes in the community has been saving people’s lives.

“The senior center is so important to the community, because it’s a place for seniors who would normally be isolated to be able to come together and gather in fellowship and participate in activities,” Watts said. “We have so many different classes where they can join together.”

Classes at the senior center include exercise classes, line dancing, card-making, crafting, and painting classes. Jam sessions where members gather together to create music are also a hit.

“When we hear a song, it makes us feel good,” Watts said. “We’re playing music from their era, not just country, not just classic rock but all kinds of music. Everybody knows some of the songs, and we’ll start a song and stop it, and they keep singing. We try to do things that engage their spirit and keep them young at heart.”

The center is extremely dependent on fundraisers like the Valentine’s celebration fundraiser, which was held last weekend.

“The average age at the senior center is 77, so most people have been retired for 20 years,” Watts said. “They’re living on social security and pensions, if they did get a pension and if they did have savings. If we had to charge what it costs us to provide this service, they couldn’t afford it.”

Lebanon Mayor Rick Bell and his wife, Necole, have helped sponsor the Valentine’s celebration fundraiser for a long time.

“When we found out what happens at the senior citizens center and how important it is, it was something we wanted to support,” Bell said. “The Valentine’s banquet is an event that they’ve been holding for many years, and it always has a lot of community support, not just with donations, but with people volunteering to serve the meals.”

Lebanon Police Department Public Information Officer P.J. Hardy has been coming to the event since the senior center asked the department if they would provide an officer for security.

“It’s awesome to see a lot of the members of the senior center attend,” Hardy said. “They have a great time, and they dance and dress up. Some of these couples are amazing dancers, and it’s a lot of fun to see and watch.”

COVID health emergencies ending

There will be a transition out of various states of public health emergencies in relation to COVID-19 on May 11.

Wilson County and Trousdale County Public Health County Director Adalberto Valdez announced the transition via email on Thursday. Beginning on March 1, COVID-19 PCR testing at the county health departments will only be available for primary care patients. Vaccinations will remain available to the general public from 8:30 a.m. until 9:45 a.m. at the health department on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

With nearly 270 million Americans receiving at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, Valdez said that the spread of vaccination and testing services to supermarket pharmacies like Walgreens, Publix, and CVS was an important part of making this transition possible.

“We have the supermarket pharmacies getting on board,” Valdez said. “When we started the pandemic, they weren’t really on board. The brunt of it was on the health departments. Now that we have them and the private sector helping us out, we have widespread services.”

Valdez said that Wilson County has the tools it needs to manage COVID-19. The health department remains focused on increasing vaccinations, monitoring variants and the spread of COVID-19, and accelerating efforts to protect high-risk populations.

“It was a collaboration between different partners,” Valdez said. “Before I came into this role, I worked at the regional office, and I was in emergency preparedness for the whole region. I was able to see how it (the pandemic) not only impacted Wilson County, but Trousdale, Dickson, Humphrey, Stewart, Cheatham and Robertson (counties).”

The Cumberland Regional Office will continue to track positive COVID-19 cases in the future. With the end of the state of emergency, the requirement for private insurance companies to cover the cost of COVID-19 tests will end, although a company can choose to continue offering that benefit if it chooses to.

“To be able to say it’s no longer an emergency, I’m happy,” Valdez said. “I’m grateful.”

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