racial relations

Republican, Democratic guber candidates differ on moving N.B. Forrest bust from TN capitol

None of the five Republican candidates for governor declares support for removing Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest’s bust from the Tennessee state capitol building, reports The Tennessean after posing the question to all of them. Two Democrats running for governor both say the bust should be moved to a museum.

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Legislative study committee to take a look back at TN lynchings

Tennessee is taking a tentative step toward acknowledging its legacy of lynching and other civil rights crimes, reports WPLN, citing a bill approved by the Legislature earlier this year.

In all, 238 Tennesseans are documented to have been lynched. The crimes include hangings, beatings and drownings.

State Rep. Johnnie Turner, D-Memphis, pushed a bill through the legislature this year that creates a study committee of three state representatives and three senators. (Note: It’s HB1306, sponsored in the Senate by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris). The group will hash out details — or even if the commission is something Tennessee desires.

Turner has no doubts.

“There are a lot of cases out there — unsolved, civil rights murders,” she says. “It is extremely urgent that we do something now before it becomes too late.”

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Study criticizes TN law on school district secession, cites Shelby, Hamilton County examples

A new study on school district secession around the nation says Tennessee law makes it easier than most any other state for wealthy, predominantly-white small cities to set up separate school systems from predominantly-black poor areas.

It cites the formation of six new school systems in Shelby County under a 2011 law as a leading example and also uses as an example plans in the works for Signal Mountain to set up a school system separate from Hamilton County.

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TN civil rights intimidation law challenged in gorilla mask protest at ETSU

The validity of Tennessee’s law prohibiting civil rights intimidation will be challenged by the attorney for a former East Tennessee State University student charged under the statute after appearing at a Black Lives Matter protest wearing a gorilla mask and carrying a string of bananas, reports the Johnson City Press.

Patrick Denton is representing Tristan Rettke, 19, who was also indicted on charges of disorderly conduct. A preliminary hearing on the charges was held Tuesday.

“This was a counter protest in a free-speech zone on campus,” Denton said after the hearing. “There’s no way that his free speech should have been criminalized. I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to taint the jury pool.”

Rettke’s charges stem from a Sept. 28, 2016, incident when he showed up at a Black Lives Matter demonstration dressed in overalls and a gorilla mask while carrying bananas with string tied around them in a burlap bag with the Confederate flag on it.

The demonstration was held at Borchuck Plaza, outside Sherrod Library on the Johnson City campus, previously designated a free-speech zone. It’s supposed to be a location where students can freely express themselves without being harassed or intimidated. But several students participating in the demonstration said that’s exactly how they felt when the gorilla mask-clad man showed up — harassed and intimidated.

Criminal Court Judge Lisa Rice told prosecutors they should give notice to the state attorney general’s office about Denton’s promised motion. Because the motion will challenge the constitutionality of state law, the attorney general’s office will handle it on behalf of the legislature.

N.B. Forrest resolution brings Sparks apology, Black Caucus condemnation

Members of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators Thursday denounced a House resolution approved – by subterfuge, they said – that includes language praising Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest.

The remarks followed a House speech by Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna, saying “no offense to the Black Caucus was intended” by his actions and saying he apologized to those offended. Sparks had sponsored a resolution that honored both Forrest and Sampson Keeble, the first black legislator to serve in Tennessee.

But after that measure was scuttled in committee, he won approval on the House “consent calendar” of a separate resolution that some of the same language praising Forrest that was part of the defeated resolution. The second resolution said in its title, or caption, that it honored a Louisiana pastor who also wrote a book on Forrest. An AP story on the House unwittingly praising the controversial Forrest was distributed nationally Wednesday evening. (Previous post HERE.)

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House panel snubs joint honoring of black legislator, Nathan Bedford Forrest

The House State Government Committee has scuttled a resolution by Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna, that would have jointly honored Sampson Keeble, Tennessee’s first African-American state legislator, and Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Confederate general who was once a slave trader.

At the Tuesday committee meeting, Sparks offered an amendment – approved on voice vote – that deleted the references to Forrest and left only the language praising Keeble, who, like Sparks, was from Rutherford County. The initial resolution notes that busts of both Forrest and Keeble are located “merely 20 steps” apart in the Tennessee state Capitol building.

But Rep. Johnny Shaw, D-Boliver, said he and other members of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators were insulted by HJR92’s original version tying together two men with starkly different backgrounds – even though Sparks met with caucus members and decided to delete Forrest.

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Rep. Akbari chosen as TN Black Caucus chair

News release from Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators

NASHVILLE—The Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators Tuesday elected its leadership positions for the 110th General Assembly of the Tennessee House of Representatives.  Rep. Raumesh Akbari of Memphis was elected Caucus Chair by acclimation.

Rep. Akbari (House District 91) replaces Nashville Rep. Brenda Gilmore, who did not run for re-election.

Following the vote, Rep. Akbari thanked the caucus members and vowed to continue the fight:  “I’m thankful to colleagues for their support in electing me chair of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators.  As a caucus, we represent all three grand divisions, and urban and rural districts, it’s this collective perspective that gives us strength.  Working together, we will aggressively fight for our legislative agenda and for African Americans across this state.  I’m thankful to the leadership of Chairlady Gilmore, and I am looking forward to working with the new members of the board.”

Other positions elected Tuesday were as follows:

  • Caucus Vice-Chair—Rep. JoAnne Favors of Chattanooga
  • Caucus Treasurer—Rep. Johnnie Turner of Memphis
  • Caucus Secretary—Rep. Barbara Cooper of Memphis
  • Parliamentarian—Rep. Joe Towns Jr. of Memphis
  • Sergeant-At-Arms—Rep. Antonio Parkinson of Memphis
  • Chaplin—Rep. Johnny Shaw of Bolivar

Black Caucus urges Haslam to diversify cabinet

The legislature’s Black Caucus is urging Gov. Bill Haslam to diversify his cabinet and offering to help him find qualified appointees. At one point, Haslam had three black cabinet members, but all have resigned – the last being Human Services Commissioner Raquel Hatter.

News release from Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Representative Brenda Gilmore, Chair of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators, has sent a letter to Governor Bill Haslam calling on him to diversify his cabinet.

With the announcement of Commissioner Raquel Hatter’s forthcoming departure, it will leave the Haslam 20+ member cabinet with only one commissioner who is not white and none who are African American.

“The leadership of the cabinet should be diverse and reflect the broad range of all that Tennessee has to offer.  This is not only about diversity. It is also about making sure that the very best and most skilled individuals are in service in state government,” said Rep. Brenda Gilmore.

“The Tennessee Black Caucus believes that it is not possible that the Governor has the best talent available, if he has no African Americans in his cabinet,” said Gilmore.

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Gardenhire accused of using ‘racially coded messages’ in campaign ads

The Hamilton County Black Caucus contends Republican state Sen. Todd Gardenhire is using “racially coded messages” in denouncing his Democratic opponent, Khristy Wilkinson, over her “Detroit values,” reports the Times-Free Press.

The group notes that in a recent Gardenhire mailer, the senator praised his own “Tennessee values” by pointing out he’s a fifth-generation Chattanoogan. The mailer then said Wilkinson “has Detroit values and wants to bring its failure here.”

A majority-black city, Detroit’s high crime rate and financial problems have made national news for years. Wilkinson, who is white and a former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga adjunct professor, is a Detroit native.

“Gardenhire clearly draws a favorable family heritage for himself compared to his opponent’s, because she is from a majority black city, Detroit,” the Hamilton County Black Caucus said. “In another mailer, he pitches a minority scholarship with pictures of black faces, without explaining that the scholarship was only established for one year and replaced long-established programs to promote diversity at state universities.”

Moreover, the group said, “Gardenhire has put his family heritage on display to suggest that it is superior to his opponent’s. He has also made direct appeals to minorities and suggested that he is the choice to look out for their interests.”

The senator said by telephone he neither intended nor sees anything racially suspect in the mailer, adding that he brought up Detroit because Wilkinson had talked about growing up there herself in the course of the campaign.

“I continue to point out my opponent brought up her Detroit connections and how she wanted to bring some of those experiences down to Chattanooga,” Gardenhire said.

He said he “interpreted that to be how Detroit was in such a financial disaster with their pension fund completely bankrupt and the city almost bankrupt. Their school systems are a nationally known disaster. They’re losing jobs by the hundreds up there.”

Note: The full caucus press release is below.

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Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.

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