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Former Democratic Tennessee lawmaker Roscoe Dixon dies

April 16, 2021 GMT

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Roscoe Dixon, a former Democratic state lawmaker in Tennessee who worked for civil rights groups and served in the Legislature for 25 years before becoming embroiled in the “Tennessee Waltz” corruption scandal, has died, a friend said. He was 71.

Ruby Wharton, a Memphis attorney and longtime friend, told The Associated Press that she was informed by Dixon’s sister that he died on Thursday. Wharton is the wife of former Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, who also was friends with Dixon.

Ruby Wharton said she met Dixon when she and her husband moved to Memphis in 1973. Dixon worked as a volunteer at the Memphis office of Operation PUSH, the civil rights organization founded by the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

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”He was a faithful worker, and none of it was anything to do but to serve others,” Ruby Wharton told the AP. “It had nothing to do with trying to get any glory, trying to get money. It was just, ‘I want to do what I can do to make it better for people, in particular African Americans and people of color.’”

The Commercial Appeal reported that Dixon was born in Gilmore, Arkansas. After he graduated from Memphis State University, he worked with the Urban League, the NAACP and Operation PUSH. He also worked on the 1974 congressional campaign of Harold Ford Sr., and the 1976 campaign of former President Jimmy Carter in Atlanta, the newspaper reported.

Dixon was elected to the state House and served from 1978 to 1994. He worked on improvements to TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program, and helped secure state funding for the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, the newspaper reported.

Dixon moved on to the state Senate, serving there from 1994 to 2005, when he resigned to take a job as deputy chief administrative officer of Shelby County.

In 2005, Dixon and six other state lawmakers were charged with taking bribes from undercover FBI agents in a federal sting operation known as “Tennessee Waltz.” He was sentenced to more than five years in federal prison.

TaJuan Stout Mitchell, a former Memphis City Council member and a longtime friend of Dixon’s, told the newspaper that Dixon shouldn’t be defined by the Tennessee Waltz because he was “so much more than that.”

“I didn’t know that other person,” Mitchell said. “I knew his heart. I knew a man who loved his wife more than life itself and who loved God. I knew a man who dedicated his life to serving others.”

After the federal case, Dixon worked to help restore voting rights to ex-felons and served as a community relations specialist for a cocaine and alcohol awareness program.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said on Twitter that Dixon “was always gracious and encouraging to me, including two years ago when I knocked on his door campaigning.”