Witness says state legislator made pro-segregation comments

Thursday, November 5, 2009 at 3:40pm

One of the state's leading political figures was accused by a witness in federal court Thursday of making racially insensitive remarks during a closed-door meeting in which he was trying to defend Metro Nashville's new student assignment plan.

During the meeting at Legislative Plaza last year, state Rep. Mike Turner, a Democrat from Old Hickory, fondly recalled his boyhood days attending segregated schools in Nashville, according to the witness, prominent black attorney Walter Searcy.

"We were dumbfounded," Searcy said.

Searcy, chair of the NAACP's legal redress committee, testified on the third day of the trial of a lawsuit accusing the school board of discriminating against black children by adopting the student rezoning plan. The plan ended the busing of children from north Nashville to Hillwood this school year.

Searcy said he met with Turner along with some of the city's black leaders and Chamber of Commerce officials to discuss the just-adopted student rezoning plan. Turner, chairman of the state House Democrats' political caucus, was a member of the task force that recommended the plan to the school board.

"What I recall most profoundly was at some point during the meeting he talked about his childhood experience going to school in Metro," Searcy testified. "... He began to compare his experience with today's experience and how he thought his experience was superior. The profound thing about that was he was actually talking about his experience in going to school with children in his neighborhood, and he lived in a segregated community. It was an experience that he offered up as a model for how we should be attending schools today or how our children should be going to school today."

Asked to state Turner's exact words, Searcy testified, "Mr. Turner said, 'I remember when we had good schools. We all went to our schools in our own neighborhood and everybody got along well.' "

Judge John Nixon asked Searcy, "Do you know what time frame he was talking about?"

"Pre-desegregation, judge," Searcy replied.

Turner has denied making racially insensitive remarks during the meeting. At Legislative Plaza on Wednesday, he said he expects to testify in the trial to dispute the plaintiffs' account of his remarks, which became public when their lawsuit was filed in August.

Later Thursday, Metro Council member Jerry Maynard essentially confirmed Searcy's testimony about what Turner said in the meeting. But Maynard, who is black and a vocal critic of the rezoning plan, said he wasn't offended. Maynard added this to the testimony about Turner's comments:

"He was trying to make us feel more comfortable and saying that, growing up, he had black friends and black people came to his house for dinner, and basically he was letting us know he was comfortable with us," Maynard said.

"And did that make you feel comfortable?" civil rights attorney Larry Woods asked Maynard.

"I know Mike," Maynard testified. "I've known Mike for a while. So I gave him a pass. I wasn't offended because I know Mike."

"When you say you know Mike, what do you mean?"

"Mike's a good old boy," Maynard replied.

The NAACP-backed lawsuit seeks to overturn the student assignment plan. To win, the plaintiffs must prove race was a motivating factor for the school board in adopting the plan.

Maynard also testified Chamber of Commerce president Ralph Schulz once told him the rezoning plan was aimed at removing poor children, not black children, from schools in the white suburbs. Schulz repeatedy has claimed the Chamber never has taken a position on the plan, even though the Chamber has opposed school board candidates who were against rezoning and bankrolled the election campaigns of those who favored it.

"He believed it was not so much about race, but it was about socioeconomics," Maynard said of Schulz. "He believed that it wasn't about getting black kids out of Hillwood and Hillsboro, but rather it was about getting out kids who are poor who do not share the same values of parents who live in the area around Hillsboro and Hillwood."

Read more from Wedneday's trial:

Expert witness claims neighborhood schools hurt minorities.

17 Comments on this post:

By: Dragon on 11/5/09 at 3:14

This demonstrates the bankruptcy of the NAACP. Dumbfounded is a good word to describe Searcy.

You are no longer allowed to say you had a happy childhood. There was segregation then. You will be hauled before a judge for being insensitive.

Stop the world. This kid wants to get off.

By: dogmrb on 11/5/09 at 3:37

It would be fine for you to get off since your world is probably still flat too.

By: artsmart on 11/5/09 at 4:39

So because he said that enjoyed going to neighborhood schools and everyone got along that was bad because there was segregation back then. Talk about stretching a point. If I am reading that correctly and that argument wins, I am going to hire that lawyer. Because I was in Seattle shortly after Microsoft was founded, I think I am part owner. I think that connection is just as absurd as connecting a happy childhood with wanting segregation.

By: Dwilso31 on 11/5/09 at 4:40

I realize that Mr. Turner is not the sharpest knife in the drawer. But what I can't understand is how someone relating their childhood school days could be considered segregationist by stating facts. That is the way it was. It's not the schools or the teachers that is the problem. It is a problem when kids start having kids. They are basicly thrown by the wayside. They have no self esteem. They have no hope. They have no guidance. This has to stop. When it does I think most will find a way to go through this world. Maybe they could give and not take so much. This world of you owe me is getting old.

By: dogmrb on 11/5/09 at 5:14

Probably you needed to have been there. Did you all go to school in the South in the 50s and 60s? It was pleasant for some but not for those who were with without resourses or rights through no fault of their own. Rep. Turner is nostalgic but as a child he probably didn't know what others were experiencing because he lived in a segregated community.

Now kids having kids is another whole story and occurs too much across the board. That's why 1 out of every 10 babies born in the USA are before term which contributes to many problems: infant mortality, learning disabilites etc.

By: terry r payne on 11/5/09 at 6:20

there will always be dumb folks to hire to work the low jobs. thats how my business survives. it dont matter where they went to school or who they went to school with.

By: dogmrb on 11/5/09 at 9:59

Right: "it don't matter". It take one to know one.

By: govskeptic on 11/9/09 at 8:06

Politcally correct Councilman Maynard says of Mike "He's a
good ole boy"! Southern slang for dumb, redneck and the
councilman knows it. I know nothing about Rep. Turner's
childhood, but his words should be taken as just as sincere as
any of the other witnesses in this rambling case! Let's get
onto the facts and true numbers and not smoke screens.

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