Wilson County Black History Committee
Share page
P.O. Box 391
Lebanon, TN 37088
Organization Details



The Wilson County Black History Committee has a vision and mission to share the heritage, arts, and culture of African Americans who lived in Wilson County by restoring Pickett Chapel, a slave-built 1827 sanctuary, into a museum for education, events, and exhibits.


The Wilson County Black History Committee (WCBHC) was founded in 1994 to document the oral history of blacks in Lebanon, Mt. Juliet, Watertown, Gladeville, and other local communities. During the next five years, WCBHC researched and compiled their stories into a book, "In Their Own Voices: An Account of the Presence of African Americans in Wilson County," which was published in 1999 by its members.

After expanding its programming, WCBHC was finally chartered by the State of Tennessee on June 3, 2003, and registered with the IRS for 501(c)3 tax-exempt status on March 4, 2005, as a nonprofit. WCBHC began collecting artifacts, cataloging archives, and creating activities about African Americans.

Slaves had worshipped at Pickett Chapel since 1827 with their masters at the Methodist Episcopal Church South until 1856, when the congregation moved to another location. During emancipation, some 30 freed blacks paid $1,500 in 1866 from their white former owners for the building for their Methodist services. When they outgrew it in 1973, it became Pickett Chapel Playhouse for local music, comedy, and dramatic theater until the mid-1990s.

When Pickett Chapel was nearly condemned in 2007, WCBHC members--some descendants of those original 30 freed blacks---rescued it by taking second mortgages on their homes.

For the next decade, WCBHC held fundraisers and benefits to pay off the $65,000 loan on Pickett Chapel. Through structural interior-exterior stabilization, Pickett Chapel was kept from being demolished. It was given a brand new roof and cupola, and double front doors were installed. Within 10 years, WCBHC retired its total debt in 2017 on Pickett Chapel while master plans began for a new Annex.

During its Juneteenth Street Festival this year, WCBHC finally dedicated the Annex on June 18, 2022, which was constructed for $95,000 over a five-year period behind Pickett Chapel. Through a volunteer interior designer, the Annex was styled with gently-used donated furniture by Vanderbilt Health and Tennessee State University for its art gallery, conference room, learning library, restrooms, and offices. WCBHC now has monthly meetings in the Annex, and it has unpacked items that had been in storage.

WCBHC continues the restoration of Pickett Chapel with its barrel-vaulted ceiling during 2022. Besides the lead paint abatement, Pickett Chapel will need rafter wood replaced from a fire years ago, and insulation, hardware, lighting, and finishes


The Wilson County Black History Committee (WCBHC) owns Pickett Chapel as a complete historical resource for African American architecture, archeology, agriculture, arts, and archives from the late 1700s until the 2000s in this area of Middle Tennessee. The nonprofit will commemorate its 20th anniversary year in 2023.

Once restored, Pickett Chapel will educate the public about slavery and freedom in Wilson County, the Civil War and Reconstruction in Tennessee, Civil Rights and desegregation in the South, and unity, equality, and diversity in America. Pickett Chapel will also have events and exhibits around the black arts, sports, farming, retail, and other industries. During the turbulent 1960s, African American parents met in Pickett Chapel to seek integration of Wilson County Schools for their children.

Pickett Chapel will also honor the legacies of famous African Americans and their families who lived in Wilson County. Some of these are: Maggie Porter and Thomas Rutling, two original Fisk University Singers during the 1860s from Lebanon; sociologist W.E.B. DuBois, the first black man to graduate from Harvard University, who received his certificate in Wilson County on June 2, 1887, to teach in a one-room log schoolhouse; activist Myles Horton, founder of the Highlander School, where Rosa Parks and John Lewis were trained in non-violent protest, who graduated in the 1920s from Cumberland University in Lebanon; harmonica player DeFord Bailey, the first African American member from 1927 to 1941 of the Grand Ole Opry, who grew up near Alexandria, and minister Will D. Campbell, who escorted the Little Rock Nine to high school in 1957, and the only white to console blacks in Memphis when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in 1968 at the Lorraine Motel, who made his home in Mt. Juliet.

WCBHC will revitalize the traditional black Market Street business district of Lebanon through this economic, adapted-reuse, development. In Lebanon, Pickett Chapel was one of the first houses of worship, the oldest red brick structure left from the 1820s, and exists on an undisturbed town plat from the late 1700s from a Revolutionary War grant. Since Wilson County is the10th largest of the 95 counties in Tennessee, it has become one of the fastest-growing areas with an African American population of 18.5 percent from the last census.

Pickett Chapel is an American landmark, which was distinguished on April 18, 1977, by the National Register of Historic Places and was declared No. 99 of the first 100 national United Methodist Historic Sites on Oct. 8, 1980, by the denomination's General Commission on Archives & History.

The Tennessee Historical Commission assigned it a roadside 3A 249 marker on Sept. 25, 2021, for its Civil Rights history, and the Tennessee Dept. of Tourism made it a drive-by destination along the Promised Land Trail through Wilson County. The City of Lebanon incorporated Pickett Chapel on June 4, 2019, into Square Historic Preservation District under its Tennessee Main Street Program.

WCBHC is transforming Pickett Chapel into community cultural center again. Wilson Countians still fondly remember it as the Pickett Chapel Playhouse during the 1970s through the 1990s where dramas, comedies, and musicals were staged for audiences. Through diversified arts groups, WCBHC would like to revive some of these live performances at Pickett Chapel.

Through regular programming, WCBHC already has a Dr. Martin Luther King Day March & Motorcade every January, displays for Black History Month at the three Wilson County Public Libraries in Mt. Juliet, Lebanon, a volunteer Heritage Peace Garden Day for clean-up and landscaping in May, the Juneteenth Street Festival in June for the new holiday nationally, the Lebanon Clowns Negro Leagues baseball celebration and athletic scholarship presentation in July, a Harvest Heritage Wine & Cheese Celebration in September, and festivities around Kwanzaa in December.


The Wilson County Black History Committee (WCBHC) is in most need of financial support by 2027 to complete the total restoration of Pickett Chapel through government matching grants, cash from foundations, private donations, and in-kind from suppliers. Through a capital campaign, WCBHC will be working on phases and stages of Pickett Chapel with the goal of occupying it at last for some education, events, and exhibits in the interim.

Pickett Chapel will need the basics of electrical wiring, HVAC, lighting, technology, and security systems through 2027 for occupying the building. Under historic preservation, WCBHC will seek construction materials of lumber, paint, insulation, hardware, and related items that will adhere to the National Park Service (NPS) Secretary of Interior Standards.

WCBHC would also like the assistance of more civic, company, and community leaders for projects in the organization. WCBHC needs educators who can do research for their masters or doctor thesis or other initiatives about African Americans. WCBHC would also like volunteers, such as Tennessee Promise college students who need hours of work with nonprofits for their education, for programs during the year.

Service Categories

Primary Category: Arts, Culture & Humanities  - Historical Organizations 
Secondary Category: Education  - Educational Services 
Tertiary Category: Civil Rights, Social Action, Advocacy  - Alliances & Advocacy 

Areas Served

The Wilson County Black History Committee (WCBHC) primarily serves the diversified 147, 737 residents of Wilson County of which 18.5 percent are African American.

However, the WCBHC also receives visitors from other counties in Middle Tennessee who are interested in black heritage, arts, and culture at many of its events. These are mainly from the surrounding populations of Davidson, Rutherford, Sumner, Trousdale, Smith, and DeKalb Counties.

TN - Wilson