NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — There was standing room only as officials renamed the post office on Rosa L. Parks Boulevard after the late State Sen. Thelma Harper Tuesday, an honor only granted by an act of U.S. Congress.
Harper was the first African American woman elected to the state Senate in 1990, the first African American woman to chair a Senate committee, and she became the longest-serving female senator in Tennessee after 28 years representing District 19.
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Harper told News 2 before her 2021 passing that one of her greatest accomplishments while in office was helping shut down the Bordeaux landfill, which she was arrested for protesting against in 1990. Harper also helped bring the Titans to Tennessee, and she pushed to rename Metro Center Boulevard to Rosa L. Parks Boulevard in honor of the civil rights icon.
Harper’s family and former colleagues said it is only fitting that the post office located on that same road be named in the late senator’s honor.
“Much like the post office, she was reliable and dependable; she showed up and she showed out for her constituents,” said State Sen. Charlane Oliver (D-Nashville). “Just like the post office does with our mail parcels, Senator Harper delivered.”
Former U.S. Congressman Jim Cooper presented legislation to rename the post office in honor of Harper last year, which Congress passed last December.
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Tuesday’s ceremony-goers donned hats in Harper’s honor as several speakers reflected on her countless accomplishments.
“She was a gentle soul, but she had an incredible inner strength,” U.S. Congressman Mark Green (R-Tenn.) said of working with Harper during his time as a state senator. “It was her sharp wit, her kind heart; her gracious attitude that filled our Capitol with a much-needed boost.”
Harper was also dedicated to helping women and senior citizens, and she started the annual ‘Kids are Special Too’ Easter egg hunt, which has gone on for more than three decades.
Before Harper was a senator, she served on the Metro Council from 1983 to 1991.
“What she thought about a senator, as a council person was that passing a bill was great, but she had constituents in her neighborhood that had trouble paying their bills, so she had to dig a little deeper and find other avenues to make things work for her constituents,” said Harper’s daughter, Linda.
Following the speakers’ remarks, the crowd marched to the post office to mount the plaque with Harper’s name to the building.
Out of the 33,000 retail post office locations across the U.S., less than 1,000 are named in honor of a person, and just 11 are named for someone in Tennessee.