Washington, DC, April 10, 2023 – The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) vehemently condemns the Tennessee State Republican controlled House of Representatives’ decision to remove two African American lawmakers. The Republicans expelled Representatives Justin J. Pearson, District 86 (Memphis and Shelby County) and Justin Jones (District 52, Nashville) for their participation in an anti-gun violence protest. Pearson, Jones, and Gloria Johnson (District 90, Knox County) demonstrated against the legislature’s failure to act in response to the Covenant School mass killing of three adults and three nine-year-old children.

The true character of the legislature’s action was revealed by their decision to only kick out the two African Americans, and not Johnson, their white colleague and comrade in the struggle.

In expelling Pearson and Jones, Tennessee’s Republican controlled legislature is depriving the citizens of District 86 and District 52 of lawful representation. District 86 is 65 percent Black and District 52 is majority-people of color, 35 percent Black and 17 percent Latinx.

As outrageous as Pearson and Jones’ ouster is, it is not the first time a progressive Black state representative was expelled by a state legislature. The Georgia House of Representatives refused to seat Julian Bond in January 1966. The Democratic Party controlled Georgia House voted 184-12 to deny Bond his duly elected seat.

Bond, a former leader in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) endorsed a SNCC statement questioning the war in Vietnam. He challenged the Georgia House actions on the grounds that it violated the First Amendment and was racially motivated. On December 5, 1966, the United States Supreme Court ruled in his favor.

The Tennessee Republican controlled House’s expulsion of Pearson and Jones is eerily similar to the Georgia House’s action against Bond. Both violated the First Amendment and were racially motivated.

Since the 2000 Presidential selection of George W. Bush, the Republican Party’s main strategy to limit Black people’s exercise of our democratic right to vote has been voter suppression. The Tennessee House’s unconstitutional action may present Republican controlled elected bodies with a new weapon in their war to deprive Black people of our voting rights.

We, the ASALH fully support the actions of representatives, Pearson, Jones, and Johnson. We denounce the Tennessee House’s anti-democratic action. And we call upon the Metropolitan Council of Davidson County in Nashville and the Shelby County Board of Commissioners in Memphis to speedily reappoint Jones and Pearson.

About ASALH’s Public Commentary Committee
ASALH’s Public Commentary Committee is charged with two tasks. The committee is in charge of drafting public statements on behalf of the executive board. These commentaries must be pertinent and relevant to the mission of ASALH. Statements should be relevant and timely on issues of Black history and conditions of Black people or persons more generally and will be posted on the ASALH Website as the official commentary of the organization and/or submitted to the national media outlets as official commentary for discussion and debate. The second task of the Public Commentary Committee is rapid response to breaking news that affects the membership and chapters of our organization.

Media Contact:
Zebulon Miletsky, Marketing Committee Chair