In Tennessee, expulsions echo a decades-old protest movement
April 16, 2023 -MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Squint a little as you take in the scene, or just close your eyes and listen to the voice, and 2023 stumbles back into another era. Another Memphis.
“You can’t expel hope!” the young man cries in his powerful voice, his message aimed at the Tennessee state legislators who had expelled him and another Black lawmaker a week earlier. “You can’t expel justice! You can’t expel our voice.”
Justin Pearson wears a dark suit in the county meeting room, a carefully knotted blue tie and glasses that bring Malcolm X to mind. He speaks in the rolling cadence of generations of Black preachers.
He ends by quoting a Bible verse beloved by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., vowing to fight “until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
Then he turns to his cheering supporters and thrusts his fist into the air.
The two Black Democratic legislators ousted by the overwhelmingly white, Republican-controlled state Legislature — then reinstated by local officials days later — have only a few months’ experience in political office.
But in barely two weeks, Pearson, 28, and Justin Jones, 27, have gone from neophyte politicians to national prominence, heralded as living echoes of the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, when leaders like King and John Lewis organized protests across the American South.