TN Speaker killed Black history education bill just days before Joint House Education Committee met

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – An effort to provide more Black history instruction was killed by House Speaker Cameron Sexton this week.

Sexton, a Crossville Republican, instructed the Joint House Education Committee Chairman Rep. Mark White (R-Memphis) that the bill should not move forward.

It was just days before the committee was set to meet when the Speaker notified the Chairman to pull the plug on the bill.

“For three months we’ve been trying to get information as to what we need to do, how we need to go about it and we got no response,” said Rep. Yusuf Hakeem (D-Chattanooga).

House bill 1460, written by Hakeem, a Chattanooga Democrat, requires public schools, including public charter schools to provide age and grade-appropriate instruction to students in 5th and 8th grade on Black history, culture, and experience.

“At the end of the day, I’m told by Chairman White that the speaker said no,” said Hakeem.

Chairman White used a restricted hallway to avoid News 2’s questions and was unavailable to speak in his office following the committee session due to meetings, according to his office.

“After being told that we would go into Summer Study, they were trying to prepare it for the upcoming session to not even get a discussion or return of my calls or letters that were sent, it was very disheartening and very disappointing,” said Hakeem.

Summer Study is typically a time for legislators to come to a consensus on, or kill bills considered in regular session.

“I think it’s very disrespectful, not only to me, but to the children and the parents of this state, because we’re talking about history, heritage, and culture in its true sense,” said Hakeem.

Representative Yusef says the goal is to teach positive accomplishments from Black people. “Contributions that have been made by black people in this community we talk about the Tuskegee Airmen, nurses, doctors, contributions that have been made that I didn’t know about until I was an adult and I’m saying children need to know about this.”

Adding, ultimately it’s about valuing the Black perspective.

“If they have a better perspective of themselves, particularly African Americans, there’s less chance of them going to prison or things of that nature, because they know others have been through hardships, and being able to accomplish things,” he said. “In regards to white students, I think it gives them a balance.”

Speaker Cameron Sexton responded to questions about the decision in a statement to News 2 saying:

“This session, there were 41 bills sent to what is referred to as a summer study. Representative Hakeem and all members know not all bills that are referred there will have a hearing. The direction of the representative’s bill is very easy to understand, and in the past, those types of bills didn’t necessarily get studied.  I encourage him and all of our members to continue working with committee members on their legislative ideas while we are out of session.”

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