A C Wharton - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

A C Wharton

From A C Wharton's biography on his campaign website:

The themes that bind together A C Wharton's platform for Shelby County are the result of a compelling vision for the future, of inspired leadership, and of courage of convictions. These are also the themes of the life of A C Wharton, whose early life in Lebanon, Tennessee, in the foothills of the Cumberland Mountains destined him to life as a laborer. And yet, through the inspirational encouragement of two student teachers from Tennessee State University and his personal dream for a better life, A C Wharton was accepted to Tuskegee Institute School of Veterinary Medicine. Unfortunately, he could not afford to attend. Just when he considered that his dreams for a college degree were shattered, his high school principal unexpectedly visited him and presented him with a scholarship to Tennessee State University. At TSU, A C excelled in his major of political science, graduating with honors in 1962. In 1968, he entered the University of Mississippi Law School, where he was one of the first African-American students to serve on the Moot Court Board and the first African-American student to serve on the Judicial Council. He graduated from Ole Miss with honors in 1971 and three years later, he became the first African-American professor of law, a position he held until 1999.

After receiving his law degree, he considered various jobs that were offered to him in Washington, D.C., before accepting a position in the Office of General Counsel of the EEOC, where he worked for two years. He then moved to the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law to head the Public Employment Project funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, which filed lawsuits to eliminate discrimination from employment practices.

In November, 1973, A C moved to Memphis after being recruited to serve as executive director of Legal Services, an organization facing severe financial difficulties. After persuading local foundations and county government to fund the program, Legal Services not only survived but was recognized nationally for its contributions to the region. Among its many accomplishments was the establishment of one of the nation's first legal services offices especially for senior citizens.

In 1980, on the strength of A C's strong administrative record, then Shelby County Mayor Bill Morris tapped A C to head the Office of the Public Defender, where his concern for the mentally ill in the criminal justice system gave birth to a national model program. His deep understanding of the complexities of the justice system and his ability to bring people of different interests together led to his chairing the county's Jail Overcrowding Committee. It was a job that was outside the realm of his responsibilities as head of the Public Defenders Office and a job no one else wanted, but he stepped up to lead the effort to develop innovative solutions to ease overcrowding of the jail while ensuring the public safety.

In 1982, he wrote and passed one of the first state laws to combat domestic violence, and at a national level, he worked for a special appropriation for one of the nation's first transitional living facilities for juveniles. Meanwhile, he and his wife, Ruby, formed a law firm where they still practice together, Wharton and Wharton.

With 80 cents of every $1 of county property tax spent on criminal justice, education, and health care, A C's experience seems especially timely. In addition to his 20 years of experience in the justice system, his experience in education includes most recently serving as vice-chair of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and as a member of the Board of Visitors of the University of Memphis. His experience in health care includes serving as chairman of the board of Methodist Healthcare, a system of 14 hospitals in West Tennessee and Northern Mississippi employing nearly 11,000 people. In the area of banking and finance, he has served on the board of Memphis branch of the Federal Reserve and as a board member with Bank of America (formerly Nations Bank).

From his formative years in Wilson County to his celebrated years in Shelby County, A C Wharton's roots run deep in the spirit of Tennessee, reflecting its pioneer commitment to community and its reputation for voluntarism. As a result, community service has been the overriding purpose of his entire adult life. It is this commitment to public service that leads him to run for mayor where his articulate and visionary leadership can transform the future of Shelby County in the 21st century. A C and Ruby Wharton, who have been married 31 years, have four sons. A C is a member of the Church of Christ.

(Editor's note: In August 2002, Wharton was overwhelmingly elected Shelby County's first African-American mayor.)

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