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TN Politics: Juneteenth Holiday Comes as Race Supercharges Politics


On Thursday, President Joe Biden signed a new federal holiday into law -- Juneteenth -- a day that commemorates the end of chattel slavery in America. Political analyst Otis Sanford calls it rare bipartisan agreement on race these days.

As Memphis prepares to celebrate the holiday Saturday in a park newly stripped of a confederate monument, other Old South notions are re-emerging throughout Southern politics. Republicans, fearing Black perspectives on American history will lead to a less patriotic country and create more racial division, have been passing laws banning what is known as "critical race theory."

As animosity has grown toward more progressive racial ideas, even groups like the conservative Southern Baptist Convention are struggling internally over whether to consider big tent views, or embrace the rhetoric of politicians and Trump supporters on issues such as critical race theory. 

Finally, some Tennessee Republican lawmakers this week threatened to dissolve the state health department over its advertising and support of young people getting vaccinated against the coronavirus. While its advocacy of vaccination for all is in line with its mission to protect public health, Republicans who view vaccination as a personal choice say the deparment is exerting "peer pressure" on teenagers. Sanford says Republicans views of COVID-19 vaccinations are informed by conspiracy theories that reflect similar fears about racial relations.

Reporting from the gates of Graceland to the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, Christopher's favorite haunt is the intersection of history and cultural change. He is WKNO's News Director and Senior Producer at the University of Memphis' Institute for Public Service Reporting. Join his conversations about the Memphis arts scene on the WKNO Culture Desk Facebook page.