Councilwoman follows in parents’ footsteps to become Tennessee politician

Local Black History
Black History Month, Madelyn Scales Harris_371851

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WKRN) – A Middle Tennessee family is continuing to “tip the scales” politically.

There has been a lot of firsts for the Scales family, and they’ve made a lasting impact on Murfreesboro.

Robert “Tee-Ninny” Scales was the first African-American council member and vice mayor. His wife, Mary, would later become the first African-American woman elected to the council seat.

Now their daughter, Madelyn Scales Harris, is walking in her parents’ footsteps and is a second generation politician.

“I’ve always been a fighter for the people,” Scales Harris said. “I’m going to be a voice for the people. I’m going to be the voice they can’t be.”

Her father won a city council seat in 1964 during the peak of the Civil Rights movement.

“He was the first African-American to be elected to at-large in the entire Southern part of the United States in 1964 since reconstruction,” Scales Harris explained.

But not everyone was willing to embrace change.

“We woke up to bricks coming through our window and flags being burned in our yard,” she recalled.

Her father would serve 24 years on the city council – 16 of those years were as the first African-American vice-mayor, until 1988 when he passionately fought for an issue dear to his heart.

“The Murfreesboro City Council voted not to recognize Martin Luther King birthday in Murfreesboro as a holiday,” Scales Harris said.

Harris had a heart-attack that night. When he was unable to finish his term, his wife Mary was appointed to serve out the remaining term.

He died in 2000 and the City of Murfreesboro now recognizes MLK Day as an official city holiday.

After her husband’s term ended, Mary launched her own campaign and was the first elected African-American woman to the city council.

She was also an educator and the first African-American professor at Middle Tennessee State University.

“It was ironic it was a school she could not go through years ago and she actually being a professor,” Scales Harris said.

She was also elected to the Murfreesboro City School Board and Scales Elementary School is named in her honor.

Mary Scales died in 2012.

“Both of them touched so many lives,” Scales Harris said. “Daddy and mama were fighters for the people, fighters for equality. They wanted everybody to be on the same playing field and wanted people to feel like they of value.”

Scales Harris ran for city council 18 years after he mother, and is currently in her second term.

Another first for the family, Madelyn was recently elected vice mayor by her colleagues.

She said it’s still surreal.

“It has hit, but it hasn’t hit me,” she told News 2.

When Scales Harris was first elected, she sat in the very chair her mother sat in and now that she’s been named vice mayor, she will soon move to the seat occupied by her father.

She’s continuing the legacy of her parents, who contributed to the rich history of Rutherford County, both personal and politically.

“I’m leaving you with a good name, and I want you to carry it on,” Scales Harris said of her father, who also took over his family’s funeral home business and ran it until his death.

Scales and Sons Funeral Home is one of the first, if not the first, African-American businesses in Rutherford County.

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