Tennessee’s first female African American State Senator talks 28-year tenure

Local News

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — News 2 is celebrating Black History Month with a special report Sunday on “Tennessee’s Hidden History”.

We’re sharing stories of our area’s past, including those of history-making trailblazers like retired Tennessee State Senator Thelma Harper.

“There was so much that we needed to be done,” Harper said.

After serving on Metro Council, she spent 28 years on the hill working for constituents in Senate District 19.

“I really thought I could make a difference,” Harper said. “The thought my whole life has been ‘can you make a difference?'”

She made that difference after becoming the first female African American State Senator in 1991. Harper was the first African American woman to preside over the Senate and the first African American woman to chair a Senate Committee.

Harper said her proudest accomplishments included closing the Bordeaux landfill, which is an issue she even got jailed for.

“People in Belle Meade, they wouldn’t bring no trash down there,” Harper recalled. “One day I got angry for some reason and told myself you all ain’t doing this no more.”

She helped bring the Titans to Nashville.

“Me and Bredesen just said this is what we’re going to do. We’re going to bring the Titans in,” said Harper.

And, she led to Rosa L. Parks Boulevard getting its name before retiring from the State Senate in 2018.

This Black History Month she said there are two big issues facing Nashville’s black community in her eyes: a lack of financial investment and the crime constantly stealing lives.

“We don’t know what the problem is, and sometimes we figure eventually, eventually, it’ll change,” Harper said.

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 3 decades.

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