Meet the namesake for Metro Parks’ new Capitol View park: Frankie Pierce

Frankie Pierce

Juno Frankie Seay Pierce was born in Nashville to Frank Seay and Nellie Allen Seay, her father a freeman and her mother a house slave to US Congressman Col. Robert Allen of Carthage, Tennessee. The 1870 Federal Census placed the Seay family in the city’s Fourth Ward. Frankie, listed as France, was 8 years old. By 1900, Frankie’s parents owned a home on McLemore Street in the Fourth Ward, and ten years later, they lived on Fillmore Street in the Thirteenth Ward.

Educated at Joseph G. McKee Freedmen School, the first free African American school in Nashville, and Roger Williams University, Frankie taught school in Nashville. In 1895, she married Clement Pierce of Paris, Texas and relocated there, where she continued teaching.

During visits to Nashville, Frankie remained active in the First Baptist Colored Church on 8th Avenue North (now the First Baptist Church, Capitol Hill) and often spoke to Women’s Clubs and other groups. Following Clement’s death in 1912, Frankie returned to Nashville to live with her mother, took a teaching position at Belleview School and became active in the YMCA women’s auxiliary.

During WWI, Frankie served on fundraising committees for the Red Cross and the YMCA. In 1919, hepled found the Blue Triangle League, “the colored branch” of the YWCA. Frankie also founded and presided over the Nashville Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs and the Tennessee Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs.

May 19, 1920, Frankie addressed the state suffrage convention in the House chamber of the Tennessee capitol. Frankie, the only African American to speak, asked, “What will the Negro woman do with the vote?” In response, she laid out a poignant defense for racial and gender equality drawing on the common bonds forged by war. Like whites, Frankie argued, African Americans gave money, purchased bonds, collected supplies, and prayed. In return, the only asked for a “square deal.”

Frankie and Tennessee League of Women Voters secured funding to establish the Tennessee Vocational School for Colored Girls, a 66 acre campus on Heiman Street, in 1923 for 12 to 15 year old girls from juvenile courts across the state, ending the barbaric practice of incarcerating children for minor offenses. As superintendent, Frankie continued to preside over the state and city federation of clubs, remained active with the YMCA and other organizations, and routinely spoke at events and meetings. Frankie retired in 1939, her successors maintained her vision expanding the school to offer primary and secondary education and psychological counseling.

During the 1930s, she chaired the women’s division of the Tennessee Interracial League and was vice president of the Negro Voters League. During WWII, Frankie led the Red Cross’s Women’s Division. In 1948, she served on the 6th District Republican Election Committee and campaigned for a place on the Republican Party State Executive Committee. In 1951, the Nashville Chapter of Links, Inc., a national organization of professional women of color, named Frankie “Woman of the Year.”

On March 22, 1954, Frankie suffered a cerebrovascular hemorrhage and died six days later. On Wednesday, November 13. 2019, Metro Parks dedicated a new park on Capitol View in her honor.