By Vivian Shipe
KNOXVILLE, TN — It was a listening tour that flowed both ways. The Tennessee Black Caucus arrived in Knoxville for the second stop on their annual state-wide town hall meetings held every year at the end of the legislative session. The evening began with the caucus members viewing a short documentary about the Black communities destroyed by urban removal in the early 60s after which they boarded one of the cities electric buses to tour the areas shown in the film. Longtime leaders and history makers rode the bus with them; Rev. Middlebrook who marched with Dr. King, Theotis Robinson Jr. first Black graduate of the University of Tennessee, Robert Booker, Knoxville’s first Black Tennessee State Representative and Dewey Roberts, Knoxville’s longest serving NAACP President. One by one they told the story as only they could, having lived through the destruction of over 2000 black owned homes, 200 businesses, and over 100 churches, recounting from heart and memory how the devastation changed the area forever.
Upon returning to the Beck Center, the town hall meeting sponsored by the National Coalition of 100 Black Women began. The legislators took their seats before a crowded exhibition hall filled with members from the community. The leaders gave a review of the work they had done in Nashville, bills passed and those that did not make it to the floor. Following their report, the leaders listened for over two hours to questions from the crowd about gun violence, criminalization of the mentally ill, felon restoration rights, the plight of black farmers, and the need for and support of more teachers.
The legislators shared information on Fund TN, a new project for investing, lending and assisting startups and those seeking venture capital funds.
Two highlights of the event were a surprise for former representative Rick Staples who was presented with a large placque for his years of service while in Nashville and the presentation of a check for 250,000.00 for the Beck Cultural Center.
As the evening began to draw to a close, the question arose from attendee Matthew Best about where do we go from here? The answers from each of the members echoed each other. Show up in Nashville to speak about issues of importance, build relationships, the need for more leadership and participation from Black churches, more education flowing from the home, and the need to go vote and when you go, take someone with you.