At the well-meaning Heart of Memphis rally Saturday morning, speaker after speaker praised those of us who had braved the weather to show a different set of values than the Ku Klux Klan. “You are the true heart of Memphis,” was said more than once. Unfortunately it was all wishful thinking, and on Monday, the county commission meeting revealed the bitter truth about the real “heart of Memphis.” After an observer pleaded for a referendum in the county to abolish the residency requirement for all public school teachers, Commissioner Walter Bailey said that would allow outsiders to “absorb” jobs that should go to county residents. Commissioner Terry Roland saw fit at that point to remind his colleagues that he can go to the Republican-controlled state legislature and get the residency requirement overturned. That was followed by Commissioner Henri Brooks complaining that she had been disrespected by her white colleagues on the Commission, comparing their actions to the Ku Klux Klan. So, it is past time that we halt any absurd notions about peace, love or brotherhood being the true heart of Memphis. If it were, we would elect leaders who exemplify those values in their public lives. It is no accident that the KKK repeatedly comes to Memphis to stage rallies. They know fertile ground when they see it.
Dear Mrs. Brooks,
You were quoted in today’s Commercial Appeal newspaper as saying that Shelby County is a place where “everything is about race.” In the context of the issue that you were commenting on, race would never have been mentioned if you had not mentioned it. In regard to a piece of property at Lamar and Kyle which belongs to the county, a black man offered a proposal to buy the property and use the building on it to train men to fix home appliances. A white man asked the county to donate the land and building for use as a senior citizens’ center. Both ideas were decent ideas that would help people. The first idea was probably better, since the taxpayers would receive payment for the land. But before any vote had been taken, you (unless you were misquoted) made hurtful racial comments about “white colonialism.” Many of us who live in this county are sick of racism and racial arguments and comments. We want to build a community, and we can’t do that if people are constantly mentioning race, and injecting it as an issue where it doesn’t go. If you want to argue that the black man’s proposal was better for the citizens of Shelby County, you had every opportunity to do so, by pointing out that job training is needed in Memphis and that his proposal would pay the county for use of the land and building. But instead, you chose to make the issue about race, as if you expected the vote to go in favor of the white man’s proposal before a vote had even been taken. We must build a community beyond race if we hope to work our way off the “most miserable cities” list. I hope and pray that you will join with those of us of all races who want to quit jumping to racial conclusions when we disagree, for the good of our community and of our children. If you are not willing to do that, please resign from your post. Sincerely, John M. Shaw