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NASHVILLE, Tennessee (AP) – A Tennessee Republican falsely stated on Tuesday that an 18th-century policy designating a slave as three-fifths of a person was adopted in an attempt to “end slavery,” commenting in the midst of a debate over whether educators should be limited while teaching systematic racism in America.
During a lengthy debate on the floor of the GOP-controlled House, several black lawmakers expressed concerns about the impact of the bill on how certain subjects would be taught in schools, specifically highlighting the compromise three-fifths. The policy was developed during the Nation’s Constitutional Convention in 1787 and stated that three-fifths of a state’s slave population could be counted in its total population when distributing taxes and representing states in the Congress.
Historians largely agree that the compromise gave slave states inordinate power over the choice of a president – and the decisions of the Continental Congress. This influence eventually waned when the populations of the northern state began to increase rapidly.
Representative Justin Lafferty, who is white, stood up and spoke at length about what he saw as prompting compromise. At one point, he asked his colleagues to jot down on paper their best estimate of the reasons that led to the policy.
“By limiting the number of the population in the enumeration, they specifically limited the number of representatives that would be available in states holding slaves and they did so with the aim of ending slavery,” Lafferty said. , from Knoxville. “Long before Abraham Lincoln. Long before the civil war.
None of the other House lawmakers directly challenged Lafferty’s false statements, but some applauded when he finished speaking.
Representative Antonio Parkinson, Democrat of Memphis and chairman of the General Assembly’s Black Caucus, said in a subsequent statement that Lafferty’s comments were embarrassing.
Rep. Lafferty’s statement on how the three-fifths compromise was created to end slavery was alarming, but the real insult was when House Republicans applauded him when he finished his rant, ”he said.
Parkinson added that conversations about race in the Tennessee Legislature have always been “very uncomfortable.”
A spokesperson for the Republican House caucus did not immediately return questions via email about Lafferty’s comments.
While the House overwhelmingly approved the legislation on Tuesday, the GOP-controlled Senate chamber refused to accept the House bill hours later. His fate remains uncertain today in the last days of the legislative session.
Lafferty’s comment echoes sentiments expressed last month by Republican Colorado Rep. Ron Hanks last month, who said the three-fifths compromise “does no harm to anyone’s humanity.” In 2019, Oregon Senator Dennis Linthicum, a Republican from Klamath Falls, argued that naming slaves as three-fifths of a person was not racist.
Tuesday’s discussion also comes as a handful of states consider restricting how schools and public agencies should talk about race and racism.
In Oklahoma, lawmakers have put forward legislation that would ban the so-called “critical race theory,” which includes a ban on teaching that individuals, because of their race or gender, are inherently racist. , sexist or oppressive, consciously or not. The bill is now heading to Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt for consideration. Meanwhile, a growing number of organizations have organized themselves to urge Stitt to veto the measure.
Idaho Republican Gov. Brad Little approved a similar proposal last week, arguing it was necessary to prevent schools and universities from “brainwashing” students.
Meanwhile, a version recently enacted in Arkansas doesn’t apply to K-12 schools, colleges, and universities, but focuses primarily on training employees.
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Monday allowed the bill to become law without his signature, a move governors have traditionally taken to express their dissatisfaction with the bills without vetoing them.
The lawmaker behind the Arkansas measure said it was intended to prevent “divisive” concepts from being taught to state employees, especially by third-party groups.
Elsewhere in the country, conservative lawmakers say they fear white college students will learn they should be ashamed of past wrongs done by previous generations, such as slavery.
But opponents retort that such measures may be inapplicable and constitute a violation of freedom of expression.
“We are about to embark on a huge First Amendment encroachment,” Arkansas Democratic Senator Linda Chesterfield said in a debate last month.
And in New Hampshire, it’s still unclear whether a similar bill would prevail after several participants in a public budget hearing urged lawmakers to drop it.
Matthew Houde of Dartmouth-Hitchcock, one of the state’s largest employers, said the bill would undermine efforts by the health care system to advance “diversity, equity, inclusion and membership”.
Associated Press editors Andrew DeMillo in Little Rock, Arkansas; Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Holly Ramer in Concord, New Hampshire and Keith Ridler in Boise, Idaho contributed to this report.
The spelling of Matthew Houde’s last name has been corrected in the last paragraph.