by BriteHeart | 4.21.19
On March 23, 1875, the Tennessee Legislature approved House Bill 527 which legalized racial discrimination in public spaces.
Three weeks before, federal authorities had enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which guaranteed African Americans equal treatment in public accommodations and jury service. By passing this state law, Tennessee officials had defiantly authorized the very discrimination the federal law prohibited.
144 years later, this codification of racism and white supremacy cannot be separated from the ongoing struggle against racial injustice that persists to this day in Tennessee. If we are not honest about this truth, then we have no hope of moving our state forward.
Justin Jones is arrested by state troopers in the governor's office as he and others stage a sit-in regarding Medicaid expansion Tuesday, April 11, 2017 at the State Capitol in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo: George Walker IV / The Tennessean)
We see the spirit of Jim Crow when our U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn is monitored by the Southern Poverty Law Center for her open connections to white supremacist groups such as receiving an award from anti-Muslim hate group Act for America and celebrating Trump’s inauguration with members of the Freedom Party of Austria, a political party founded by a former officer of the Nazi SS in the 1950s.
We see the spirit of Jim Crow when Speaker Glen Casada called for Syrian refugees to be rounded up by the national guard because of their race and religion. In November 2015, Casada proclaimed to the press: “I’m not worried about what a bureaucrat in D.C. or an unelected judge thinks ... We need to gather (Syrian refugees) up and politely take them back to the ICE center and say, ‘They’re not coming to Tennessee, they’re yours.’”
We see the spirit of Jim Crow when Representative Terri Lynn Weaver sought to deflect from her own involvement in racist policies by saying she had “black friends.”
We see this today, and we recognize that we have seen this same extremism and vitriol coming from leaders in the Tennessee Capitol before. Faces have changed and structures have evolved but the toxic root is all too familiar. Extreme lawmakers racialize the narrative in their politics of “divide and conquer,” but end up hurting all of us.
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Troopers stand in front of a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest during a protest at the Tennessee State Capitol Monday, Aug. 14, 2017. A protester covered the bust with a black fabric during the protest. (Photo: Shelley Mays/The Tennessean )
It is how they justify denying healthcare to 300,000 Tennesseans under the Affordable Care Act (a majority of whom are white people) by connecting it to our nation’s first African-American president.
These lawmakers like Andy Holt and Cameron Sexton will protect Confederate monuments to manipulate communities into thinking that they are fighting in their interests while at the same time they refuse to protect healthcare access, watch rural hospitals close, do nothing to get living wages for their constituents, and stand by as the Speaker’s Chief of Staff is given a raise to $200,000 a year.
Like their forebears, these politicians take advantage of vulnerable people — getting them to vote against their own interests by playing on fear and division.
The truth must be told in Tennessee through active repentance. A statue of the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan still sits in the Capitol rotunda. It is the only monument protected by armed troopers and a velvet rope.
From the time the statue was erected in 1978 to the present-day, it has been protested by Black Tennesseans who have seen its clear connection to white supremacist ideologies and policies. Ku Klux Klan members even had a press conference in front of this statue because they identified it as a symbol for their cause. Despite this, state leaders refused to take it down because to do so would require acknowledging that they were wrong.
Written by BriteHeart
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