Created in 2019, Tennesseans for Historical Justice's mission is to uncover the truth about racial violence in Tennessee to achieve justice, conciliation and healing.
Tennesseans for Historical Justice ("THJ") was created on February 25, 2019 as a nonprofit public benefit corporation in the state of Tennessee. THJ is organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes within the meaning of Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as now in effect or as may be amended in the future. The specific purposes for which the Corporation is formed are:
To educate the public about civil rights history and lessen the burdens of government by conducting a statewide survey of all civil rights crimes perpetrated in Tennessee;
To eliminate prejudice and discrimination, including by organizing and conducting educational racial reconciliation events; and
For any other lawful purpose consistent with the provisions of Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.
THJ is the successor to an unincorporated association known as the Tennesseans for Historical Justice Coalition (the "Coalition").
A civil rights crime generally refers to an act of violence, intimidation, or other interference with (1) the exercise of civil rights, or (2) a person's access to public services, employment, benefits, and accommodations based on that person's race, color, religion, or national origin. Throughout the twentieth century, particularly during the Civil Rights Era prior to 1980, African-Americans faced discrimination and systematic violations of their civil rights. This often took the form of violence, including murder of civil rights leaders, arson and bombing of African-American churches, attacks on African-American voters, and lynching. Law enforcement agencies frequently refused to enforce criminal laws against the perpetrators of these crimes. As a result, countless civil rights crimes committed against African-Americans went uninvestigated and remain unsolved to this day.
In recent years, communities have worked to raise awareness of unsolved civil rights crimes and to bring justice to victims and their families. In 2016, the United States Congress reauthorized the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Act of 2008, which directs the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to investigate and prosecute certain unsolved civil rights crimes. In the state of Tennessee, previously unsolved cases have been reopened thanks to the efforts of community activists, reporters, investigative journalists, and local prosecutors. For example, the 1940 murder of Mr. Elbert Williams - one of the first known NAACP members to be murdered for civil rights activities - was reopened in 2018, more than 78 years after the crime was committed (see Exhibit E). THJ Director Jim Emison played an instrumental role in persuading law enforcement to reopen the investigation into Mr. Williams' killing.
On May 15, 2018, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed into law House Bill No. 2624 (the "Cold Case Law") creating the Tennessee Civil Rights Crimes Information, Reconciliation, and Research Center (the "Center"). The Center functions as an informational clearinghouse for unsolved civil rights crimes in the state of Tennessee and coordinates volunteer activities related to that mission. The Center was created within the Tennessee Office of Minority Affairs and is charged with a number of duties, including conducting a statewide survey of civil rights crimes and organizing public gatherings concerning civil rights.
The Coalition organized and lobbied for the passage of the Cold Case Law. Comprised of citizens from across the state determined to enlighten the public about injustices buried in Tennessee's past, the Coalition brought testimonies from unsolved cases before the Tennessee legislature (see Exhibit H).The successful passage of the legislation creating the Center made Tennessee the first state in the country to create a government unit focused on crimes committed during the Civil Rights Era.
The creation of the Center is a positive step in the direction of justice, but the work to reconcile history and bring justice to victims is far from complete. The Tennessee General Assembly did not appropriate any funding to the Center or to the Office of Minority Affairs to fulfill the duties imposed by the Cold Case Law. In lieu of state resources, the Cold Case Law instructs the Center to utilize private organizations to fulfill its duties under the law. The Cold Case Law specifically names TIIJ's predecessor association as an organization the Center should work with in fulfilling its duties
THJ incorporated in February 2019 to assist the Center in fulfilling the mandate of the Cold Case Law. THJ has two primary organizational goals. First, the organization will educate the public about civil rights history and lessen the burdens of government by conducting a statewide survey of all civil rights crimes perpetrated in Tennessee. Second, the organization will work to eliminate prejudice and discrimination by organizing and conducting educational racial reconciliation events.
THJ will pursue its exempt purposes through the following activities: (A) educating the public about civil rights history and lessening the burdens of government by providing resources to and working alongside the Center in order to conduct a statewide survey to document all civil rights crimes perpetrated in the state of Tennessee; and (B) eliminating prejudice and discrimination by organizing public racial reconciliation events in the state of Tennessee.
A. Conducting a Survey of Statewide Civil Rights Crimes
The Center has a duty under the Cold Case Law to create and conduct a statewide survey of civil rights crimes in Tennessee, both solved and unsolved, by utilizing volunteer resources of public and private sector institutions. THJ is named in the Cold Case Law as an entity the Center should utilize in designating volunteers and volunteer coordinators to conduct the survey.
The Cold Case Law provides that volunteer coordinators be chosen to oversee the implementation of the survey in their geographic districts. The information submitted in the survey will be catalogued, compiled, and transmitted in the form of a report to the state government on an annual basis. In cases where criminal prosecution remains possible, relevant information from the survey will be transferred to the appropriate law enforcement agencies.
THJ will recruit, organize, and train volunteers to conduct the statewide survey. In accordance with the Cold Case Law, THJ expects to divide the state into districts and designate volunteer coordinators to organize and conduct the surveys within those districts. Volunteer training may include instruction on how to access public records, review media archives, interview law enforcement representatives, and otherwise identify civil rights cold cases. Survey results will be reviewed by district coordinators and THJ staff, compiled into a comprehensive annual report, and submitted to the Center.
These activities further THJ's corporate purpose of educating the public by conducting the statewide crimes survey and lessening the burden on the Office of Minority Affairs to conduct the survey as required by the Cold Case Law.
B. Organizing Public Racial Reconciliation Events
The Center has a duty to initiate and participate in reconciliation actions, meetings, ceremonies, services and other similar activities on behalf of the state of Tennessee. The Center also has a duty to maintain pertinent information related to pending conferences, workshops, public hearings, remembrances and other similar events concerning unsolved civil rights crimes and cold cases occurring in the state.
THJ will organize these events in addition to providing volunteer resources and other services to assist the Center in fulfilling its duty under the law. Examples of the sort of public activities contemplated by the Cold Case Law may include seminars or workshops focused on civil rights history in Tennessee and commemorations of civil rights crimes. By bringing citizens together to promote greater understanding of civil rights in Tennessee, these events will further THJ's exempt purpose of eliminating prejudice and discrimination.
Achieving justice, conciliation and healing from broken pieces..
Tennesseans for Historical Justice adopted as its logo The Mpatapo, a West African Adinkra symbol that represents conciliation and peacemaking, combined with Kintsugi, the ancient Japanese art of mending broken pottery with golden lacquer.
The Mpatapo binds the parties to a dispute to a peaceful resolution.
Kintsugi symbolizes that brokenness should not be hidden and that mending is beautiful and brings hope and healing.
The Mpatapo overlaid with Kintsugi symbolizes the mission of Tennesseans for Historical Justice to discover truth, do justice, and to beautifully mend the wounds caused by racial violence in Tennessee.