Tennessee lawmaker criticized over comments on ‘Three-Fifths Compromise’ during debate over critical race theory bill

Updated: May. 5, 2021 at 8:22 AM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - On Tuesday night, the Tennessee House approved a bill banning the teaching of systemic racism in schools, but the debate is far from over.

While the State House approved the measure banning critical race theory in schools, it still faces a fight in the State Senate.

The measure was a last-minute amendment that the state Senate has refused to agree to. It was proposed by State Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge.

State Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, supports the measure. He says the curriculum makes students feel responsible for what others did in the past.

“It doesn’t do any good to teach our children that any one race is responsible for the historical actions of another,” said White.

But other state lawmakers who oppose the measure say it sugar coats American history and the impact of racism on minorities.

“What we have to do is have these conversations in education settings to bring context to our students so we can remember what happened in American history so we won’t repeat the horrible things that happened in American history,” said State Rep. London Lamar, D-Memphis.

If passed, the amendment would mean schools that teach about systemic racism would have their funding withheld.

Another lawmaker is facing criticism about comments he made during the debate over this bill.

State Rep. Justin Lafferty, R-Knoxville, defended the “Three-Fifths Compromise,” saying it was necessary to curtail southern states and end slavery.

The “Three-Fifths Compromise” was an agreement between delegates from the north and south that every enslaved person would count as three-fifths of a person when determining representation in the House of Representatives.

“By limiting the number of population in the count, they specifically limited the number of representatives available in the slave holding states and they did it for the purpose of ending slavery,” Lafferty said during the debate. “Well before Abraham Lincoln, well before the civil war, do we talk about that? I don’t hear that anywhere in this conversation across the country.”

Lafferty is in support of the measure banning critical race theory in schools.

State Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, told the New York Times Lafferty’s comments were offensive.

“I don’t care if it’s policy or how you’re counting heads, there is nothing good about slavery,” said Parkinson.

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