NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A Tennessee Republican has falsely declared that an 18th century policy designating a slave as three-fifths of a person was adopted for “the purpose of ending slavery. "
Tennessee state Rep. Justin Lafferty made the remark Tuesday during a debate on whether educators should be restricted while teaching about systematic racism in America.
In the lengthy discussion on the GOP-controlled House floor, several Black lawmakers expressed concerns about the bill’s impact on how certain subjects would be taught in schools, specifically highlighting the Three-Fifths Compromise.
The policy was made during the nation’s Constitutional Convention in 1787 and classified a slave as three-fifths of a person when apportioning taxes and states’ representation in Congress.
“By limiting the number of population in the count, they specifically limited the number of representatives who would be available in the slaveholding states and they did it for the purpose of ending slavery,” said Lafferty, R-Knoxville. “Well before Abraham Lincoln. Well before Civil War. Do we talk about that?”
No other lawmakers directly challenged Lafferty’s false claims, but some applauded when he finished speaking.
State Representative Antonio Parkinson of Memphis released this statement on the comments made by Rep. Lafferty on the Three-Fifths Compromise:
“Conversations around race are always very uncomfortable in the Tennessee legislature. Rep. Lafferty’s statement about how the Three-Fifths Compromise was designed to end slavery was alarming but the real insult was when the House Republicans clapped for him when he finished his diatribe. What I appreciate about his soliloquy is the fact that he gave us his truth, his rationale as to why he was supporting the amendment to force teachers through law to whitewash historical events. This is exactly what needs to happen in our state. There is a need to have a conversation in truth in order to move our state forward.”
Rep. Parkinson appeared on Newsroom with Victor Blackwell on CNN Wednesday.
Blackwell pointed out that there were Republican members who stood and applauded Lafferty’s comments. He then asked Parkinson what he thought.
“That was the worst part of it, was to see my other colleagues clap for this soliloquy that he delivered that was actually a false narrative and speaks to what the legislation is about, is they want the teachers, by law, to tell the good and the bad about anything they discuss that has any historic account in regards to the state of Tennessee and the United States,” Parkinson said. “So, some of the questions that I posed to them was, what’s good about the two individuals that flew those airplanes into those world banks, the world trade centers? What’s the good about Hitler who orchestrated the holocaust? What’s the good about slavery? And that was his way of justifying some good about slavery, as if it impressed us or was something we needed. And that’s absolutely false. There was absolutely nothing good about the institution of slavery, at all.”
Blackwell asked whether it was Parkinson’s understanding of the legislation that there would have to be a search for good in some of these ugly chapters of history, there would have to be a balance they would have to search for in these elements?
“Their strategy is for educators to tell both sides of the story,” Parkinson said. “And one of my members, one of our colleagues, the Chair of the Education Committee who actually brought this bill back -- understand, this was intentional. The bill was on the floor. They brought it back to committee just to add this language to it and then bring it back to the floor. And he stood up and he said, he wanted this legislation because he’s tired of people blaming. And my response to that is, we’re going to keep on blaming until you start admitting. And when you start admitting and when you start paying and when you start making things equitable and when you start undoing the harm that you did, then maybe the blaming will start. But what’s happening is you have a fear of an ever-changing landscape in America that white males are afraid of in some cases and that loss of power that could possibly come with it. And that’s what we’re dealing with.”
Blackwell asked whether Parkinson has had conversations with his colleagues about this.
“I’ve had conversations with my colleagues,” he said. “And I always tell them, we have to have conversations in truth. And I want to know what your truth is. Yesterday that’s the one good thing about what my colleague Justin Lafferty said. He spoke his truth. Whether we agree with it or not, that’s his truth. But I want them to know my truth also. So that they can understand the reasons, the why. That’s the real issue. We missed the why and why people are speaking from the perspective that they’re speaking from.”
The AP contributed to this article.