Vote on Tennessee anti-reparations bill delayed as hundreds of activists rally

Nashville, Tennessee - Tennessee lawmakers have delayed a vote on an anti-reparations bill after community advocates gathered hundreds of signatures on a petition for justice.

The Tennessee House has delayed a vote on a rightwing measure aimed at barring reparations programs in the state.
The Tennessee House has delayed a vote on a rightwing measure aimed at barring reparations programs in the state.  © IMAGO / Cavan Images

Lawmakers in the Tennessee House on Thursday pushed back a planned vote on HB 474, legislation that would prevent counties, municipalities, and metropolitan governments from funding the study or disbursement of reparations.

The bill specifies that reparations refers to "money or benefits provided to an individual who is the descendant of persons who were enslaved as compensation for the enslavement of the individual's ancestors."

Tennessee state Representative Justin Jones in December 2023 expressed his intent to introduce reparations legislation this year. In February 2023, Shelby County, the Volunteer State's largest county, voted to approve a reparations study.

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Had it gone forward, the HB 474 vote would have taken place on the anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was fatally shot in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968. Dr. King was a vocal advocate for reparations for Black Americans.

Tennessee anti-reparations bill faces fierce public opposition

A petition circulated by Memphis' Rev. Dr. Earle Fisher opposing efforts to prohibit reparations in Tennessee has garnered over 500 signatures and counting.
A petition circulated by Memphis' Rev. Dr. Earle Fisher opposing efforts to prohibit reparations in Tennessee has garnered over 500 signatures and counting.  © Screenshot/Facebook/Earle J. Fisher

The decision to delay Thursday's vote came after a petition against the bill, organized by the Rev. Dr. Earle Fisher, gathered more than 500 signatures in two days, the Memphis pastor shared on X.

"This proposed bill is not just misguided; it is morally repugnant. It seeks to silence the voices of those who have long been marginalized and unjustly discriminated against, further perpetuating systemic inequalities that have plagued our society for far too long," the petition states.

"In the face of adversity, we must stand united in our commitment to justice and equality, and we must not waver in our resolve to achieve reparative justice for those who have been historically oppressed. The time for action is now, and we must rise up against this legislation that seeks to erode the progress we have made towards a more just and equitable society."

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The effort has gained support from state Representative Justin Pearson, who posted on X: "Takes 30 seconds to sign on with us and fight back against the Tennessee House GOP's hate on such a historic and painful day in our history."

The petition is still accepting signatures as Black Tennesseans and their allies keep their sights set on the rescheduled session next week.

Faith leaders lead a march and rally for reparations outside the White House on Juneteenth 2023.
Faith leaders lead a march and rally for reparations outside the White House on Juneteenth 2023.  © IMAGO / NurPhoto

The US reparations movement is seeing ever-growing popular support as well as fierce rightwing backlash.

Reparations commissions are cropping up in cities and states around the country. Evanston, Illinois, has already begun disbursing housing grants to Black residents, while lawmakers in California have started advancing reparations legislation following the release of the state task force's final report last June.

Meanwhile, Florida Republicans are trying to preclude consideration of reparations before a comprehensive study even gets underway. State Senator Blaise Ingoglia earlier this year presented a failed joint resolution that would have barred city or state reparations to descendants of enslaved people.

Efforts to halt the growing reparations movement are also happening at the federal level. Just days after Juneteenth 2023, Republican Congressman Brian Babin of Texas introduced HR 4321, the "No Bailouts for Reparations Act," to block federal funding to cities and states that enact reparations programs.

These attempts at sabotage have not stopped racial justice advocates from demanding delivery on reparations by legislative or executive means.

On Thursday – the anniversary of Dr. King's assassination – over 400 community leaders and lawmakers sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to establish a federal reparations commission.

Cover photo: IMAGO / Cavan Images

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