In this rare clip from MTV News, Tupac Shakur talks about income inequality in America.
In this rare clip from MTV News, Tupac Shakur talks about income inequality in America.
NNPA NEWSWIRE — In Philadelphia, several officers have been terminated while in St. Louis, prosecutors have barred a number of police personnel from bringing cases against suspects. “I continue to be very angered and disappointed by these posts,” Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross Jr., said on Thursday, July 18.
By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire National Correspondent
Police officers in Philadelphia and St. Louis are paying a heavy price for their acts of racism.
Weeks after a scathing analysis by the nonprofit Plain View Project, the two departments have responded.
In Philadelphia, several officers have been terminated while in St. Louis, prosecutors have barred a number of police personnel from bringing cases against suspects.
“I continue to be very angered and disappointed by these posts,” Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross Jr., said on Thursday, July 18.
Ross said the department terminated 13 officers who made “posts that advocated violence.” He said 17 other officers still face “severe disciplinary action,” while another four will receive 30-day suspensions.
In St. Louis, Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner said she added 22 officers to her “exclusion list” of authorities banned from bringing cases to her office after the Facebook posts were made public.
In a letter sent to Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards and St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden, Gardner said seven of those 22 were “permanently banned.”
Hayden and Gardner have said they are still investigating the Facebook posts.
In June, the Plain View Project determined that at least 328 active-duty police officers in various cities, including Philadelphia and St. Louis, posted content that championed violence against Muslims, immigrants and African Americans.
In the posts, officers from rookies to the highest of rank, said the viewed African Americans as “dogs,” and some wrote that they would arrive at work believing that, “it’s a good day for a chokehold.”
Still, others posted their beliefs that women in hijabs were tantamount to “trash bags.”
Plain View project officials counted more than 3,000 offensive posts from departments across the country, including Dallas, Tex.; Denison, Tex.; Lake County, Fla.; Philadelphia, Penn.; Phoenix, Ariz.; St. Louis, Mo.; Twin Falls, Idaho; and York, Penn.
“We found a very high and concerning number of posts that appear to endorse, celebrate or glorify violence and vigilantism,” said Philadelphia-based attorney Emily Baker-White, who heads the Plain View Project.
“We included posts that we thought could affect public trust and policing,” she said.
“We also included posts that seemed to emit some sort of bias against a group of people – whether if that’s a minority faith, a minority race, ethnicity, immigration status, whatever it is. We saw a number of posts that appeared to denigrate those groups of people,” Baker-White said.
Pennsylvania State. Rep. Chris Rabb said the move by the Philadelphia Police Department to fire the officers is the right thing to do.
“We rely on police officers to protect us, all of us, and to serve as an example of appropriate behavior in our community,” said Rabb, a Democrat who represents the Philadelphia area.
“Unethical, racist, inappropriate behavior or comments by police officers, like that exhibited by these officers from the Philadelphia Police Department, undermines the public’s trust in an institution that is supposed to serve us all,” Rabb said.
Further, Rabb said he agreed with sending the message that such behavior will not be tolerated in any police department.
“But it’s not enough if those police officers are able to find employment in another community that’s unsuspecting of their past behavior,” said Rabb, who has introduced legislation that would ensure that officers like those being terminated cannot simply be moved to another department without leadership and the community being aware of their past behavior.
He said his bill would prevent a department from hiring a police officer who separated from their last job after a pattern of allegations, complaints or charges for inappropriate behavior.
It would also ensure that the hiring departments are fully informed about whom they are hiring.
“This legislation would empower police chiefs and municipalities to make fully informed decisions about the officers who serve their communities,” Rabb said.
“Accountability and transparency, which this legislation would promote, are assets in agencies and departments that strive for integrity.”
Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #5 President John McNesby said the organization was “disappointed” in the decision to fire the officers in part because they were deprived of due process.
“The overwhelming majority of our members serve this city with integrity and professionalism,” McNesby said.
None of the terminated officers were named, but Philadelphia authorities confirmed that the highest-ranking officer fired is a sergeant.
“We have a duty to represent ourselves and our city,” Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said.
“We will not allow this incident to break down the progress we have made and we pledge to do better,” Kenney said.
NEW PITTSBURGH COURIER — As Benjamin Franklin was leaving the Constitutional Convention he was approached by a woman who asked, “What have you given us, a monarchy or a republic? Franklin replied, ”A republic, madam, if you can keep it.” Every serious thinker since Plato, including the founders of the United States, have had the same reservation about popular democracy; there is a very thin line that separates democratic rule from mob rule. When democracies begin to disintegrate they produce tyrants, the rise of the Roman Empire was a result of the fall of the Roman Republic.
By Mike Jones
As Benjamin Franklin was leaving the Constitutional Convention he was approached by a woman who asked, “What have you given us, a monarchy or a republic? Franklin replied, ”A republic, madam, if you can keep it.”
Every serious thinker since Plato, including the founders of the United States, have had the same reservation about popular democracy; there is a very thin line that separates democratic rule from mob rule. When democracies begin to disintegrate they produce tyrants, the rise of the Roman Empire was a result of the fall of the Roman Republic.
Athletes need coaches, armies need generals, and political parties need political leaders. What stands between the flawed democratic project that is the United States and a dystopian future that would make “1984” look like the Garden of Eden before the snake is an intellectually vapid baby boomer Democratic leadership class, lacking in character, whose political muscle has completely atrophied.
The sophomoric moralizing of Democratic leadership about constitutional and cultural norms is not about protecting a moral high ground, but rather an excuse for the political cowardice of not confronting an existential evil that is currently metastasizing throughout the American body politic.
Abraham Lincoln was not only arguably America’s most eloquent president but also its most prophetic. In his Second Inaugural Address, given a month before the end of the Civil War and his assassination, he gives the reason for the war and when it will end. For him the cause was unequivocally slavery. “Slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest,” Lincoln wrote. “To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war.”
Lincoln believed that the war would only end when the nation had paid the full price of the sin of slavery, and God would determine when the debt was paid. As he put it, the war would “continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s 250 years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword.” Slavery, which was maintained by violence, would require a violent death.
Lincoln understood clearly that if the South tried to break the Union, the Union had to break the South. Political leadership like Lincoln gets you generals like William Tecumseh Sherman, the ultimate destroyer, who telegraphed Lincoln the following in 1864, “War is the remedy our enemies have chosen. They wanted war, and I say let’s give them all they want; not a word of argument, not a sign of let up, no cave in till we are whipped or they are.”
Sherman was the military expression of Lincoln’s political will, and Lincoln had the moral agency to deploy him without any reservation. What’s the relevance for us today?
Donald Trump is ignorant, lazy, incompetent and amoral, but he’s not stupid. Mitch McConnell is immoral but cunning. Like all hyenas, they have a nose for fear and weakness and the Democratic establishment smells like prey. Trump, McConnell and the dumpster fire that is the current Republican Party are political thugs. To stop political thugs requires you to be a political gangsta. Lincoln and Sherman were political gangstas; that’s why they prevailed over the Confederate political thugs. Democratic leadership can’t spell “O.G.,” let alone be one.
History is very often about the path not taken. What would have happened had Lincoln lived? Before you start hyperventilating with the possibilities, remember Lincoln was a man of his times, meaning that like most, if not all, 19th century American White men, he was a racist. His moral objection to slavery was because it stained the soul of White Americans. How he would have addressed the humanity of emancipated African Americans is an open question.
Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War is an interesting analogy to put the 2020 Presidential Election into some historical context. Just about every issue riling the American political system has its root in the unrealized possibilities of Lincoln’s second term. The armed conflict ended in April 1865, but his assassination two weeks later insured the war would continue. Like then, the struggle now is between the forces of the Union versus the Confederacy. The 21st century Confederacy has its Jefferson Davis. The question is: can 21st America still produce a Lincoln?
The point is not to make Lincoln a hero to African Americans, because he was not. The point is to illustrate what effective, principled White political leadership looks like and the difference it can make when the fate of the Republic is at stake. Lincoln understood what was at stake and what was required. History will have to wait until November 2020 to make a judgment about the Democratic leadership of today.
(Mike Jones is a former senior staffer in St. Louis city and county government and current member of the Missouri State Board of Education and The St. Louis American editorial board. In 2016 and 2017, he was awarded Best Serious Columnist for all of the state’s large weeklies by the Missouri Press Association, and in 2018 he was awarded Best Serious Columnist in the nation by the National Newspapers Association.)
Reprinted from the St. Louis American.
This article originally appeared in the New Pittsburgh Courier.
NNPA NEWSWIRE — A war, Mr. Trump may be estimating, could “rescue” him politically, and inject more money into the Pentagon. The U.S. “war strategy” was revealed by Reps. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) and Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) after a House Armed Services Committee meeting and confirmed to The Intercept by Rep. Gabbard. “We were all in that meeting with Pompeo where those statements were made,” Ms. Gabbard said.
By Askia Muhammad, Senior Editor, The Final Call
WASHINGTON—President Donald J. Trump seems to want war with Iran. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is beating the drum for war with Iran. National Security Adviser John Bolton is itching for war with Iran. Together they are orchestrating an all-too-familiar scenario to justify the use of U.S. military force against the Islamic Republic.
In 1846 U.S. forces falsely claimed they were attacked by Mexican forces inside U.S. territory. In retaliation the U.S. launched the Mexican-American War, seizing land from New Mexico to California, to Colorado, even to Utah. Have we forgotten the suspicious sinking of the USS Maine, the Navy ship which went down in the Havana Harbor in 1898, dragging the U.S. into the Spanish-American War?
In 1962, a Pentagon plan called “Operation Northwoods” was hatched for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to commit acts of terrorism against U.S. civilians to be blamed on Cuba, in order to justify an invasion of that country. In 1964 the White House committed “material misrepresentations” of the truth of what was known as the “Gulf of Tonkin Incident” in order to goad Congress into authorizing war with Vietnam. And of course, the convincing dramatizations of “Yellow Cake Uranium” and non-existent “weapons of mass destruction” were used to justify the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The Trump administration is now stoking fear of a potential conflict with Iran. The president withdrew from the landmark Iran nuclear deal—the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—in May 2018. More recently, National Security Adviser John Bolton asked the Pentagon to provide the White House with military options to strike Iran.
In the latest incident, the Secretary of State said Iran was behind the attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman June 13, implicating the nation in the second set of attacks on tankers in the region in two months. U.S. Central Command even released a video it says shows Iran removing an unexploded mine from one of the tankers it’s accused of attacking.
But the Japanese owner of the ship that was damaged denied that it was struck by mines as the U.S. claims, insisting instead that it was hit by “flying objects.” Yutaka Katada, president of the Kokuka Sangyo shipping firm that owns the Kokuka Courageous tanker, told reporters in Tokyo June 14: “The crew are saying it was hit with a flying object. They say something came flying toward them, then there was an explosion, then there was a hole in the vessel. Then some crew witnessed a second shot.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the United States had “immediately jumped to make allegations against Iran—(without) a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence,” and he accused the Trump White House of “economic terrorism” and “sabotage diplomacy,” according to published reports.
“So it’s apparent that the United States is trying to execute a false flag operation and to throw dust in the eyes of international communities and make the international community feel that the Iranians are the aggressors when in fact it’s Washington that’s the aggressor,” Dr. Gerald Horne, professor of history and African American studies at the University of Houston said in an interview.
The U.S. lust for war is because U.S. interests and allies are suffering, while Iran is making gains in the region, according to Dr. Horne. The U.S. invasion of Iraq has made that country even more dependent on Iran for everything from electricity to security. And U.S. ally Saudi Arabia is fighting a costly and bloody war against rebels in Yemen who enjoy Iranian support.
“Interestingly enough, because of Mr. Trump pulling out of the (Iranian) nuclear deal, the EU 3—Germany, Britain, and France—are trying to set up a special purpose vehicle to circumvent U.S. sanctions,” Dr. Horne said, “which will then be a threat to the dollar, which is now under siege not only because of the EU 3 but also because of Russia (and) China preparing to conduct trade without the dollar.”
A war, Mr. Trump may be estimating, could “rescue” him politically, and inject more money into the Pentagon. The U.S. “war strategy” was revealed by Reps. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) and Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) after a House Armed Services Committee meeting and confirmed to The Intercept by Rep. Gabbard. “We were all in that meeting with Pompeo where those statements were made,” Ms. Gabbard said.
The Trump administration is prepared to wage the war against Iran without congressional authorization, based on the notion that the “Authorization for the Use of Military Force” approved by Congress in 2001 after 9/11 can be applied to Iran, through that country’s purported links to Al Qaeda.
Democratic House members and senators, and a host of presidential candidates condemned the president’s saber rattling. “If the administration wants to go to war against Iran, then the Constitution requires them to come to Congress to ask for an authorization for the use of military force,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a presidential candidate told reporters.
“This is Constitutional Law 101, that it is Congress, not the president, that declares war,” Sen. Warren, a former law professor, continued. “We would have to have a debate on the floor of the Senate. And if the administration doesn’t believe that they can withstand a debate, then they shouldn’t be aiming themselves toward war.”
President Trump told an interviewer on June 13 that “Iran did do it.” In response, presidential candidate and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told reporters: “Attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman are unacceptable and must be fully investigated. But this incident must not be used as a pretext for a war with Iran, a war which would be an unmitigated disaster for the United States, Iran, the region and the world.
“The time is now for the United States to exert international leadership and bring the countries in the region together to forge a diplomatic solution to the growing tensions. I would also remind President Trump that there is no congressional authorization for a war with Iran. A unilateral U.S. attack on Iran would be illegal and unconstitutional.”
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of BlackPressUSA.com or the National Newspaper Publishers Association.
NNPA NEWSWIRE — The people who are jailed or threatened with jail often are the most vulnerable Americans living paycheck to paycheck, one emergency away from financial catastrophe, according to a 2018 report from the American Civil Liberties Union.
By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
Despite a centuries-old Supreme Court ruling that outlawed the practice, debtor’s prison remains very much alive in America, experts told NNPA Newswire. Being poor is challenging enough, but some states, like Missouri, have continued to punish those of lesser means.
A federal class-action suit claims thousands of those living in Missouri were jailed because they couldn’t pay off fines – essentially, a debtor’s prison and conundrum for the poor.
Pro Publica reported that four years after the suit was filed, the plaintiffs are still waiting, and wondering if the deck is stacked against them.
The report details the plight of Tonya DeBerry, who, in January 2014, was driving through an unincorporated area of St. Louis County, Missouri, when a police officer pulled her over for having expired license plates.
“After discovering that DeBerry, 51, had several outstanding traffic tickets from three jurisdictions, the officer handcuffed her and took her to jail,” according to Pro Publica.
“To be released, she was told, she would have to pay hundreds of dollars in fines she owed the county, according to her account in a federal lawsuit. However, even after her family came up with the money, DeBerry wasn’t released from custody.
Because DeBerry still owed fines and fees to the cities in Ferguson and Jennings, she remained jailed and her attorney likened it to “being held for ransom.”
“The crisis that is going on in Missouri is taking place all around the country. It is a rising issue amongst people who cannot afford to pay court fees and, or fines,” said Attorney Dameka L. Davis of the Davis Legal Center in Hollywood, Fla.
“I believe the more appropriate action is to implement programs and services that are free or offer a person to do community service in lieu of paying fines or fees,” Davis said.
“Our system is perpetuating a money-based system, which in turn systematically affects minorities and people of color,” she said.
Matt C. Pinsker, an adjunct professor of Homeland Security and Criminal Justice in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University, said the problem runs deeper than in Missouri.
“The American people would be horrified if they knew of just how many laws still exist which send poor people to prison over their inability to pay fines, court costs, and related expenses,” Pinsker said.
“It is a tragedy and absurdity that we will essentially have debtors’ prisons here in the United States of America,” he said.
In DeBerry’s case, Pro Publica reported that after the Michael Brown killing, “the city slowly stopped jailing people for not being able to pay fines as the news media showed the victims were primarily black and the Justice Department made clear that what Ferguson had been doing was wrong.”
Still, the lawsuit remains unresolved with the city seeking dismissal.
In 2018, the American Civil Liberties Union detailed more than 1,000 cases in 26 states in which judges, acting on the request of a collection company, issued warrants for people they claimed owed money for “ordinary debts, such as student loans, medical expenses, unpaid rent and utility bills.”
The ACLU said it’s a system that breeds coercion and abuse.
The report concluded that, “with little government oversight, debt collectors, backed by arrest warrants and wielding bounced check demand letters, can frighten people into paying money that may not even be owed.”
Few tools are as coercive or as effective as the threat of incarceration, ACLU report authors said.
As an example, one 75-year-old woman subsisting on $800 monthly Social Security checks, went without her medications in order to pay the fees she believed were required to avoid jail time for bouncing a check.
And as one lawyer in Texas, who has sought arrests of student loan borrowers who are in arrears, said, “It’s easier to settle when the debtor is under arrest,” the report’s authors found.
The people who are jailed or threatened with jail often are the most vulnerable Americans living paycheck to paycheck, one emergency away from financial catastrophe, the report said.
Many were struggling to recover after the loss of a job, mounting medical bills, the death of a family member, a divorce, or an illness.
“They included retirees or people with disabilities who are unable to work. Some were subsisting solely on Social Security, unemployment insurance, disability benefits, or veterans’ benefits – income that is legally protected from outstanding debt judgments,” the report’s authors wrote.
NNPA NEWSWIRE — More than 1,000 individuals incarcerated in federal prisons were granted sentence reductions in the four months since the First Step Act was signed into law, according to the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC).
By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
The First Step Act, which replaced a federal “three strikes” rule that imposed a life sentence for three or more convictions – with a 25-year sentence, is benefiting thousands of incarcerated Black men, according to a new report.
More than 1,000 individuals incarcerated in federal prisons were granted sentence reductions in the four months since the First Step Act was signed into law, according to the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC).
Their sentences were reduced by a mean of 73 months or 29.4 percent, as a result of the resentencing provisions allowed under the Act which, in addition to shortening mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses, applied resentencing to be applied retroactively to individuals convicted of crack cocaine offenses before 2010 – when the federal government reduced disparities between crack and powder cocaine offenses.
The USSC found that over a quarter of the 1,051 resentencing motions were granted by federal courts in Florida, South Carolina and Virginia.
Over 91 percent of the individuals whose sentences were shortened were African American and 98 percent were male, the USSC said.
The average age of those granted resentencing motions was 45 – and the average age at the time of the original sentence was 32.
“The 2010 re-set of the crack-powder cocaine disparity, under the Fair Sentencing Act passed that year, disparity was aimed at tackling the disproportionate racial impact on nonviolent drug offenders,” according to the Criminal Justice Network’s Crime Report.
Signed into law by President Donald Trump in December, the First Step Act reportedly was the first major overhaul of the nation’s sentencing regime in decades.
“More ambitious overhaul plans had been stalled in Congress, despite widespread bipartisan support,” according to the Criminal Justice Network.
In writing about the latest report on the First Step Act for The Root, Michael Harriot said people should hold off in praising the GOP for reducing sentencing disparities until they understand that the provision that “released these hundreds of black inmates was not included in the first draft of the First Step Act.”
It did not address the crack vs. cocaine disparity. It didn’t address drug sentencing. It didn’t address sentencing reform at all,” Harriot said.
“These amendments were only included when dozens of organizations like the Color of Change and the Prison Policy Initiative urged Democratic lawmakers to vote against the bill unless Republicans agreed to include prison and sentencing reform initiatives,” he said.
Harriot said conservative senators eventually agreed, much to the dismay of hardcore right-wingers like Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.).
“To be clear, the First Step Act is a win for criminal justice reform. But the Republicans who wrote the law never meant for it to reduce the sentences of hundreds of prisoners. They never intended for it to address the racist war on drugs,” he said.
“Even though some people insist that we must ‘give the president his due,’ the reason hundreds of black people have been removed from America’s system of mass incarceration is that a Democratic senator wrote a bill, a Democratic president signed it and Democrats forced Donald Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress to make it retroactive,” Harriot said.
In a recent Op-Ed, CNN host Van Jones, who worked with lawmakers on Criminal Justice Reform and the co-founder of the #cut50, a bipartisan criminal justice initiative of the Dream Corps., indicated that he’s pleased with the progress of the First Step Act.
“This time last year, practically no one believed that a bipartisan breakthrough of this scale and magnitude was even possible,” wrote Jones, who was on hand for the signing of the legislation.
“For those of us who continue to believe and fight for a victory on what was once considered to be a lost cause, celebrating the First Step Act is something we experience with a great deal of pride,” Jones said.
NNPA NEWSWIRE — An editorial in the Evening Scimitar in 1899 put Church’s legacy in this context: “It may be said of Robert R. Church that his word is as good as his bond. No appeal to him for the aid of charity or public enterprise for the benefit of Memphis has ever been in vain. He is for Memphis first, last and all the time…”
By Dr. L. LaSimba M. Gray Jr., Special to The New Tri-State Defender
With a 7 p.m. parade down Beale Street to Church Park, Memphis celebrated the birth of Robert Reid Church Sr. as a part of the Memphis Bicentennial.
Mayor Jim Strickland issued a proclamation that was received by Ron Walters, general manager of WREG TV and a local historian. Mini speeches took place and good fellowship abounded.
One hundred eighty years ago, on June 18th in Holly Springs, Miss., Robert R. Church was born to a slave girl named Emmeline and Captain Charles B. Church. Owner and operator of two of the most patronized steamboats on the Mississippi River, Church transported cargo and passengers between Memphis and New Orleans.
In 1851, Emmeline died and Robert Church was sent to live with his father on the Mississippi River. Emmeline had secured Capt. Church’s pledge that her son Robert would never be sold to another slave owner.
Sending Robert to his father was his intended passport to the North and the best education money could buy. Church bonded with his son, deciding to raise him and teach him the steamboat business.
From errand boy to steward, Robert served as an assistant to his father in many capacities, learning the principles of business, with an emphasis on bookkeeping. Capt. Church taught Robert to read and count receipts in French. A fast learner, Robert listened intently to his father’s instructions.
“Be considerate of others but always demand respect for self,” admonished Captain Church to his son. “Never allow anybody to call you a nigger.”
This hands-on education and the 11-year apprenticeship thoroughly prepared Robert for the tumultuous life he would face in the fast-growing river town of Memphis and the bustling street called Beale.
On June 6, 1862, the Civil War registered in Memphis as the Federal Fleet arrived in the Memphis Harbor with cannons blasting. Robert Church was serving as steward of the Victoria. When federal troops took over the Victoria, Robert was forced to make a decision: Be killed or be captured and become a prisoner of war. Robert chose to jump into the river and swim to the muddy banks of Memphis.
With the savings from his work on the river, Robert entered business in Memphis. His first investments were in real estate and soon he expanded to hotels, pool halls, brothels, saloons and, ultimately, a bank.
Soon after the Civil War, Memphis was consumed by the Yellow Fever epidemic and the racial tensions that led to violence, death and destruction. Four days after the announcement that the plague was present in Memphis, 25,000 people fled the city. Robert Church acquired many abandoned properties, expanding on his real estate holdings. He could have left in a panic, choosing instead to contribute generously to helping Memphis recover.
African Americans remained in Memphis and by 1878 they were 70 percent of the population. African Americans constituted an overwhelming majority of the 3,000 nurses left to take care of the stricken. The entire workforce assigned by city officials to clean up the streets, bury the dead, clean up the dumps, drain the bayous, burn contaminated rags and spread lime over the vacant lots were African Americans. These heroic efforts were performed with great risk in the true sense of altruism.
The Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878 eroded the tax base and city coffers. Memphis was unable to service a $5 million debt, adequately provide city services and pay state taxes. The city was stripped of its charter and reduced to a taxing district.
The State of Tennessee appointed Dr. D.T. Porter and David Hadden to provide leadership to the “taxing district on the bluff.” Under austere supervision and tight fiscal controls, Memphis began to rise from the ashes of devastation.
Prominent citizens debated strategies to be relieved of the debt and restore Memphis to city status. But Memphis needed investors willing to take a chance on the future. The bond market was uncertain about the potential of Memphis and most citizens were reluctant to take a chance on Memphis.
Throughout, Robert R. Church remained bullish on Memphis. In 1885, he purchased the first $1,000 municipal bond, breaking the dam of fear. By that summer, local banks and wealthy individuals purchased more than $200,000 worth of bonds. Memphis accepted responsibility for the $5 million debt and continued to rid the city of unsanitary conditions.
In 1891, the Tennessee State Legislature restored Memphis’ charter and its city designation. Two years later, Memphis was given taxing authority and home rule. That accomplishment may well be attributable to Robert R. Church for his courageous act of selflessness and his commitment to Memphis.
An editorial in the Evening Scimitar in 1899 put Church’s legacy in this context:
“It may be said of Robert R. Church that his word is as good as his bond. No appeal to him for the aid of charity or public enterprise for the benefit of Memphis has ever been in vain. He is for Memphis first, last and all the time…”
John Overton, Andrew Jackson and James Winchester founded Memphis in 1819. It is safe to say, in 1885, Robert R. Church saved Memphis.
Happy Birthday, Mr. Church; and thanks a million for Memphis and Beale Street!
(“Taking Note!” is a periodic column written by the Rev. Dr. L. LaSimba M. Gray Jr., pastor emeritus of New Sardis Baptist Church.)
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