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‘This Honorable Body’ Gives Names to Reconstruction-Era Tenn. Legislators

 

One of the undercurrents of the ongoing Nathan Bedford Forrest Park controversy is the idea by some but not all of Forrest’s admirers and defenders that the Ku Klux Klan, of which Forrest was the first Grand Wizard, was an organization that guarded against the excesses of Reconstruction era changes in government.

The defense of Forrest includes the idea that “radical Republicans” and “carpetbaggers” were manipulating the post-war era and its restrictions on the voting rights of ex-Confederates to put people into office who were simply puppets for their interests.

In the aftermath of the Civil War, African-American citizens were elected to state legislatures and the U.S. House of Representatives across the South. The political gains came over a very short period. It was short enough that these elected officials are often footnotes to the later elections of African-American citizens from the late 1960s into the early and mid 1970s, approximately 80 years later.

Many of those in the later group have their achievements noted with the caveat that they were the first African-Americans elected “since Reconstruction.”

Just this week, we used the phrase in referring to the late A.W. Willis of Memphis, who was the first African-American state legislator in Tennessee since Reconstruction when he was elected to the Tennessee House in 1966.

Thanks to the Tennessee State Library and Archives and the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office, we now have a ready source of information about that generally nameless and unseen group of black elected officials who held office during a volatile period in the 19th century, some of them former slaves. The website, “This Honorable Body,” is a valuable addition to Memphis history as well as state history.

Among those on the creative staff that put the site together is Shelby County Judicial Commissioner John Marshall.

The page is more than a collection of bios. There are timelines and documents and explanations that put the legislators in the context of their times. There is even a teachers’ guide.

 

 

The Mad Earl coming to Madison will prepare food ‘sous-vide’

Thursday’s cover story, “Maximizing Madison,” explored the newly formed Madison Avenue Alliance and The Mad Earl companion piece to The Brass Door.

The English-themed sports bar/pub will be geared toward a “funkier and younger crowd” and serve inexpensive sandwiches and salads. It will share The Brass Door’s prep kitchen, but won’t have a full-blown kitchen with a traditional Vent-A-Hood. This is where manager Clay Shelton had to get creative.

Shelton will be cooking most of the food “sous-vide,” which is French for “under vacuum.” This process involves seasoning the protein, sealing it in a bag without air, and submerging it in a vat of water at the temperature at which it’s going to be served.

Say it’s a medium rare burger that’s being prepared – this process is performed in 135-degree water and after 30 minutes, the meat is cooked through. The burger is then taken out of its bath and quickly seared on both sides to finish it off.

“It’s simple and it’s delicious,” Shelton said.

The Mad Earl plans to open on St. Patrick’s Day, The Brass Door’s busiest day of the year.

Big investments in Memphis jobs this week

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. shows up to meetings of the local economic development body that grants tax incentives to businesses pretty predictably.

That’s not to say on a regular basis, rather his appearances are predictable because they tend to coincide with votes on tax deals for businesses moving into or expanding in the core city.

And that’s what he did this week. The mayor showed up at both meetings of the Economic Development Growth Engine Board this week, at one of them praising Smucker’s decision to stay put in Memphis in exchange for a tax incentive, a deal that Wharton said shows Memphis’ commitment to essentially the heart of Memphis and its infrastructure.

On Wednesday, the EDGE board approved a four-year tax freeze for Container Maintenance Corp., which is boosting employment in Memphis (where it provides intermodal-related services) by 96 workers and investing almost $4 million to expand. Wharton praised the company for making that push, in addition to praising (along with Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, also present) another project up for a tax freeze: International Paper Co.

Memphis-based IP got a 15-year tax freeze to help the company pursue a nearly $116 million expansion of its Memphis presence, which includes keeping 2,274 jobs here, creating 101 new jobs, keeping its headquarters here and building a new 235,000-square-foot, 10-story building along with a new 470-car garage and two pedestrian bridges.

On Monday, the EDGE board granted a 12-year tax freeze to the J.M. Smucker Co. so that the company would stay in Memphis and pursue a $55 million expansion.

That would save the company several million dollars in taxes, and in return the company would keep 125 jobs in Memphis.

The company’s PILOT application explains the project will retrain the company’s current remaining workforce to produce products using new machinery and technologies.

Here’s the letter sent to Memphis by the Olympic committee

Click below to read the letter sent to Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. by the U.S. Olympic Committee as part of a mass invite to a few dozen cities to submit bids to host the 2024 Olympic Games:

OLYMPICS 02-19-13 Letter to Cities – Memphis

Otis Higgs & The Way We Were

 

Funeral services are Friday, Feb. 22, for Criminal Court Judge Otis Higgs at 3:30 p.m. at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church, 70 N. Bellevue Boulevard.

The services come a week to the day that Higgs went home early from the Criminal Justice Center because he wasn’t feeling well and was hospitalized later that night and then died.

A couple of years ago, I was in Otis Higgs’ courtroom at the Criminal Justice Center. It was for a hearing in the Clayton Smart Forrest Hill Cemetery case and there was a point where the attorneys were talking among themselves about some important issue.

So as the rest of us sat in the courtroom waiting, the judge motioned for me to come to the bench and we got caught up. I hadn’t been at The Daily News very long and since Higgs had been re-elected to the criminal court bench, I hadn’t seen that much of him.

So after filling him in on what was going on with my job and what else I had been covering, I asked him if he had any interest in running for mayor again.

His answer was quick, definitive and precise — no.

I get that a lot from folks I covered in the 1970s and 1980s. One told me several years ago that he wasn’t “built that way anymore.”

I’ve also known a lot of politicians I covered in what were the early days for me who changed as well but not in a way that caused them to walk away voluntarily from the pursuit of political office.

It came to be their career, the way they made their living — even in offices that paid a part time salary. Too many of them were forced out because of what they became to make that work — corrupt. Some have successfully battled back from drug addiction only to remain addicted to politics, wanting to stay in office in the worst way possible and succeeding on those terms.

So much of politics is dealing with change on your own terms. It also involves a limited window of opportunity to do something for the right reason even if what you specifically want to accomplish is controversial.

Otis Higgs never won the political prize he wanted the most. But his 1975 and 1979 campaigns for mayor were an important part of our political evolution, setting in motion next moves that ultimately outran Higgs bedrock campaign message — that a political coalition across racial lines could take the highest office in city government and change a government with a fundamentally conservative outlook that dealt with racial issues from a position of majority rule instead of coexistence.

There could be discussions across the racial divide. But if there was disagreement, the talks were going to end with the majority exercising its power and its viewpoint.

Higgs was the first major African-American contender for mayor, running for the first time in 1975, eight years after A. W. Willis had run in the 1967 mayoral race won by Henry Loeb. Willis was accused of splitting enough of the black vote that incumbent mayor William Ingram was counting on to beat Loeb and become the first mayor under the city’s new mayor-council form of government.

In eight years, much had changed politically in Memphis. Chandler had his own concerns including that Juvenile Court Judge Kenneth Turner would split white votes. But even if that happened, Chandler still had the runoff provision to fall back on.

1975 was also the year Harold Ford Sr. took office as the Congressman for what was then the 8th district. It’s difficult now to understand just what his election the year before – the year of Watergate meant to the emergence of black political leaders. Ford’s election was no fluke. It was no knee jerk Watergate reaction. He stayed for 22 years.

As current Memphis Cong. Steve Cohen told us in an editorial board discussion last year:

“The Congressional seat is different now than it was. When Harold Ford Sr. was elected to Congress in 1974, there was no black mayor. There was no black majority city council. There was no black majority county commission. … So the congressman who was the first major black elected official in this area became the godfather. Harold Ford became a political machine.”

And the Ford machine picked and chose those black candidates seeking to win other offices that it would back. But it was hardly that “textbook” in terms of the political mechanics. The machine also worked on getting people out of races through charm and/or pressure. The argument could be that if you don’t run now, we will support you later or if you stay in now, you will never have another chance ever again.

More importantly, there wasn’t then and there isn’t now a monolithic view of what more African-Americans in elected office means. There was no vision or master plan.

Ford was a lightning rod. Higgs wasn’t. Both knew there was an opportunity for new voices long left out of decision making to become not just heard but felt – to affect the city’s direction.

The third time that Higgs ran for mayor was in 1983.

On election night I made my way from D’Army Bailey’s campaign headquarters where the evening ended early to Higgs’ campaign headquarters where the evening lasted just a little bit longer.

The Higgs supporters were in a much better mood than the Bailey camp. In fact, many were chanting “We beat Ford” as the election returns came in showing Dick Hackett beating John Ford by a wide enough margin that Hackett did something Wyeth Chandler hadn’t done against Higgs in 1975 and 1979 – he beat his closest rival with a majority of the votes meaning he did it without a runoff.

Long before he ran in 1991, Willie Herenton had preached the need for a single consensus black mayoral candidate. He certainly wasn’t the only one talking up such an effort. But he was saying it publicly louder and longer than anyone else. Herenton even said it once at Clayborn Temple with Dick Hackett sitting a few feet away.

And 1991 was the year of the plan and the move to push the candidate that emerged from the plan more aggressively than ever before. Higgs was opposed to it enough to describe it as an effort to sell a “mythic water-walking” black candidate to African-American voters.

That was the phrase he used one day before the pivotal meeting at Bloomfield Baptist Church we describe in our weekend piece about Higgs. The meeting effectively ended his last bid for Memphis mayor before it began.

After that I would get an “anonymous” phone call several times over the years suggesting that Benjamin Hooks was interested in an appointment to various offices. The voice was always unmistakably that of Higgs.

 

Dansette

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