How a Powerful Black Senator Corrected Inequalities

Senator Thelma Harper

NASHVILLE, TN — African-American woman state senator in Tennessee. She was elected in 1991, is the longest-serving female State Senator in Tennessee history.  She the first woman to preside over the Senate and first African-American woman to serve as the Chair of the Senate Government Operations Committee holding that position during the 102nd, 103rd, 104th, and 105th General Assemblies.  She served as Vice Chair of the Senate State and Local Government Committee during the 97th and 101st General Assemblies and the first Senator to serve as Chair of the Tennessee Black Caucus.

She began her public service in 1980 when she was elected as Executive Committee Woman for the 2nd district. She was next elected to the city council in 1983 where she served for 8 years. She simultaneously served as the 2nd District Councilwoman and as State Senator of the 19th District to complete her term in the city council.

Harper has provided a strong, unwavering voice for women, our most vulnerable children, and the elderly. She has passed legislation on a range of causes, including the establishment of a fee waiver to provide students from low-income homes with school supplies and lunches; mandatory insurance coverage of breast reconstruction symmetry for breast cancer survivors; increased legal protections to stop financial exploitation of the elderly by their caretakers; and the safe haven law to save abandoned babies.

Harper sponsored the legislation that renamed a portion of U.S. Highway 41 in honor of civil rights legend Rosa Parks, Senator Harper has played an integral role in the economic development of the 19th Senate District, helping win passage of numerous amendments to state budgets to benefit the citizens of her district through job training programs, workforce development efforts, and capital projects like the Nashville Music City Center,  where she worked to amend Tennessee’s usury law to allow Nashville to sell the bonds to build the facility.

The 19th District includes Downtown Nashville, Senator Harper worked closely with 5 sitting Nashville Mayors & 4 Governors. She has been instrumental in some of Nashville’s Historical moments like the Development of the Music City Center, the Downtown Nashville Library and the facilitation to bringing the NFL Titans Football team to Nashville. She was also instrumental in getting funds for Tennessee State University, Meharry Medical College, and many non-profit organizations throughout the years.