Tennessee resolution praises King, denounces racism

January 23, 2019

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee House lawmakers on Wednesday unanimously adopted a resolution praising Martin Luther King Jr.’s life while also promising to fight racism.

“We wanted to spend some time in this resolution honoring Dr. King, but it’s not enough just to honor him,” said House Majority Leader William Lamberth, 41, a Republican from Cottontown who co-sponsored the proposal. “Especially for my generation and for all of us in public office, we wanted to go beyond that.”

The resolution’s success stands out after the Republican-dominant Legislature failed twice last year to pass similar proposals denouncing neo-Nazis and white nationalists.

“We join with Tennesseans throughout this great state to continue the fight against racism of all types as we all work to bring Dr. King’s dream to fruition by making Tennessee a place where equality, justice, freedom, and peace continue to grow and flourish,” the resolution reads.

Lamberth says his resolution — co-sponsored by House Minority Leader Karen Camper — doesn’t name any particular hate groups because he didn’t want to cherry-pick what groups were politically popular at the time. Instead, he said he preferred to issue a blanket statement condemning racism.

Later Wednesday, Democratic Rep. John Ray Clemmons reintroduced a resolution specifically calling out neo-Nazis and white nationalists and urging law enforcement to recognize such groups as “domestic terrorist organizations.”

In 2018, Clemmons backed a similar resolution but it quickly died in the House after failing to secure a second motion in a subcommittee. A Republican lawmaker then introduced a slightly tweaked version, only for that proposal to also be killed shortly after.

Clemmons, who is running for Nashville mayor, has since said he won’t push his resolution due to the House’s voice action.

“I’m going to take them at their word,” Clemmons told reporters late Wednesday afternoon, and said he had not been asked by Democratic leaders to back off his new resolution.

However, the Nashville lawmaker expressed regret the House took a voice vote over a roll call vote because it robbed the public from knowing who exactly supported the proposal.

Clemmons added that Republican lawmakers have resisted efforts to remove the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest — a Confederate general, slave trader and early Ku Klux Klan leader — currently on display in the Tennessee Capitol lobby between the House and Senate chambers.

Forrest was famous for his exploits as a Confederate cavalry general who had amassed a fortune as a plantation owner and slave trader in Memphis before the Civil War.

So far this session, there has been no legislation calling for the removal of the contentious bust.

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