Black clergy plan to sue Tennessee over voting maps as group pushes legislation on gun violence, health care

Feb. 2—A newly formed group of Black clergy from across Tennessee plans to sue the state over its redistricting maps.

The Rev. J. Lawrence Turner, chair of the steering committee for the African American Clergy Collective of Tennessee and senior pastor of Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church in Memphis, said the group expects to announce in the coming days a partnership with a "historic civil rights organization" to file a lawsuit against the state over the maps.

"It is morally and ethically wrong, and we cannot allow the political trajectory of our state to be solidified for the next 10 years without the African American community, but particularly the African American church, speaking up on behalf of having equitable maps that are drawn so that all of us get the representation that we deserve," Turner said.

The decision by state lawmakers to break up the heavily Democratic Nashville area among three districts drew criticism from Democrats who argued it does not make sense to pair parts of urban Nashville with rural surrounding areas.

The announcement came Tuesday night as the collective held a special day of prayer and fasting on Feb. 1, the beginning of Black History Month. Leaders of the African American Clergy Collective of Tennessee held an online prayer service after which the group outlined its legislative goals for the upcoming term.

Along with voting rights, the group is pushing for expanded health care and more attention to gun violence.

"We commit to you, oh God, our governmental halls and all of our residents," said the Rev. Earle Fisher, senior pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Memphis, during the service. "We believe in this state and its people. We believe that this is your state and we are your people. We belong to you and we are charged and challenged to serve your people who are called by your name."

The call from faith leaders offered a different vision than that cast by Gov. Bill Lee Monday evening during his State of the State Address.


Turner said the group is working with state lawmakers to introduce legislation to declare gun violence a public health emergency, underlining the .

Turner said there are gun violence intervention strategies that save lives but do not rely solely on law enforcement and incarceration as solutions.

"If the opioid epidemic was serious enough for millions of dollars in this state to be given over to resolve that epidemic, surely gun violence is an epidemic in the state of Tennessee," Turner said.

According to , the number of non-fatal shootings in the city increased nearly 60%, from 80 in 2019 to 126 in 2021, while the number of homicides stayed similar.


The group is also working to expand health care in the state, calling specifically for state lawmakers to take up a previously scrapped bipartisan plan to expand health care, as well as expand Medicaid.

The Rev. William Terry Ladd III, pastor of First Baptist Church in Chattanooga, led the prayer for health care during the service, noting the state's decision not to expand Medicaid and the decision, passed during a special session in October, to .

Despite lawmakers representing Southeast Tennessee praising Hamilton County's efforts during the pandemic, nearly all of Hamilton County's delegation voted to strip away local control.

"Today, in our state, there are over 300,000 people who are uninsured and have no access to affordable health care. We need your promises, God," Ladd said during the service.

Contact Wyatt Massey at or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.