Thelma Harper (politician)

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Thelma Harper
Thelma Harper Nashville 2010.jpg
Member of the Tennessee Senate
from the 19th district
Assumed office
Personal details
Born (1940-12-02) December 2, 1940 (age 77)
Brentwood, Tennessee
Political party Democratic
Residence Nashville, Tennessee
Alma mater Tennessee State University

Thelma Harper (born December 2, 1940) is an American politician and the first African-American woman State Senator of Tennessee elected in 1991.[1] She continued to break the glass ceiling by becoming the first woman to preside over the Senate. She is a Democratic member of the Tennessee Senate for the 19th district, which is composed of a large portion of Davidson County including the urban core of Nashville.[2]

Her re-election in 2014 marks her 25th year in the Senate, where she currently serves on the Finance, Ways and Means Committee, the State & Local Committee, and the Ethics Committee. Overall, Harper has served as an elected official for more than 30 years. She began her public service in 1980 when she was elected as Executive Committee Woman for the 2nd district. She was next elected to the city council in 1983 where she served for 8 years. She simultaneously served as the 2nd District Councilwoman and as State Senator of the 19th District to complete her term in the city council.

Education and career[edit]

Thelma Harper has served as a state senator since the 96th Tennessee General Assembly. She is the secretary of the Senate Government Operations Committee and a member of the Senate State and Local Government Committee.[2]

For eight years Thelma Harper served as a member of the Nashville/Davidson County Metropolitan Council. She was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 2000, and 2008. In 2000 she was one of the Convention speakers on day 4 of the convention speaking to "The Al Gore I Know"

She currently serves as a board member for the Nashville Downtown Partnership, an organization focused on the revitalization of downtown Nashville. She possesses a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration/Accounting from Tennessee State University.[2]

Political views and proposals[edit]

In 2004, when asked by The Tennessean whether the Tennessee state constitution should be changed to say the right to an abortion is not guaranteed, she replied that the issue should not be written into the state constitution.[3] In 1996, Thelma Harper was one of only two state senators that did not vote in support of a bill to ban gay marriage in Tennessee, instead choosing to abstain.[4] Thelma Harper proposed legislation that would rename U.S. Highway 41 as Rosa Parks Boulevard,[5] which was later successfully passed in both the House and the Senate.[6]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c "Tennessee Senate Member". Archived from the original on April 27, 2007. Retrieved September 10, 2007. 
  3. ^ "Where senators stand on abortion, civil unions". The Tennessean. March 31, 2004. 
  4. ^ de la Cruz, Bonnie (July 1, 2003). "Frist stirs debate over gay marriage". The Tennessean. 
  5. ^ "NewsChannel Nashville, Tennessee - Senator Proposes Another Name For Highway 41". Retrieved September 10, 2007. 
  6. ^ Overstreet, Lee Ann (August 15, 2007). "Street name change to honor Rosa Parks". 
Preceded by
Tennessee State Senator, 19th District
Succeeded by