Cover photo for Retired Senator Thelma C. Harper's Obituary
Retired Senator Thelma C. Harper Profile Photo

Retired Senator Thelma C. Harper

December 2, 1940 — April 22, 2021

Senator Thelma Harper, a sharecropper’s daughter was from the Pultight area of Williamson County and was one of eleven children born to Reverend William Claybrooks, Sr. and Clora Thomas Claybrooks. She was a longtime member of the Schrader Lane Church of Christ in Nashville, TN.
She is survived by her devoted daughter, Linda and son-in-law Bobby, Atlanta, GA. Brother Dennis (Gwendolyn) Claybrooks. Godsister Charlene Stuart and a host of Devoted Nieces, Nephews, Godchildren and numerous “Dear Friends” and Colleagues.
Her early education began in a one-room schoolhouse before attending Haynes High School. After receiving the blessing of her parents, she was united in holy matrimony at the age of 16 to Paul Harper for 60 years until his death in 2018. This proved challenging for the teenage couple because during that timemarriedstudentswerenotallowedtoattendHighSchool. Shewasforced
out of High School but returned years later and graduated from Cameron High School. To this union two children were born, Dylan and Linda to whom she was an extremely proud and devoted mother. Together, she and her husband owned Harper’s Restaurant and several businesses on Jefferson Street. After her children got older, she entered college and graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in 1978 from the great Tennessee State University.
Senator Thelma Harper is the first Black woman elected to the Tennessee State Senate and the longest serving woman StateSenatorinTennesseehistory. ShecontinuedtobreaktheglassceilingbybecomingthefirstBlackwomantopreside over the Senate and was the first Senator to serve as Chair of the Tennessee Black Caucus. Additional appointments include Chair of the Senate Government Operations Committee and Vice Chair of the State and Local Government Committee.
She was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012. In 2000 she was one of the convention speakers for former Vice President Al Gore, the presidential nominee at the Democratic National Convention. Her jovial speech entitled "The Al Gore I Know” was a highlight on the fourth day of the convention.
Harper, a flamboyant legislator was known as a fighter and advocate for her community. She is also known for wearing many hats both literally and figuratively. She began her public service in 1980, when she was elected as executive committeewoman 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. Senator Harper's eight-year tenure on the Metropolitan Council saw her lead the communities fight to close the Bordeaux Landfill. The numerous protests and blockades of dump trucks led to her arrest along with her fellow community activists. This activism yielded closure of the dump and proposed legislation that enacted fair and equitable standards of landfill locations.
Senator Harper felt it was an honor to be a public servant while being a voice ”On the Hill” for her constituents. Elected to the State Senate in November of 1990 she served 28 years retiring in 2018. She tirelessly worked on issues that were important to not only District 19, but all Tennesseans. She was a strong unwavering voice for her community, women, children and the elderly by passing legislation to support their issues. She was also able to foster economic development within the 19th District through the passage of numerous amendments to state budgets that benefited the citizens and local colleges within her district.

Her main love, however, was working with youth programs. She proudly sponsored summer science camps for inner city children, established model after-school and summer programs for at-risk adolescent youth, mentored girls at the Woodland Hills Youth Development Center, and sponsored numerous youth sport teams like the Senator Harper Wildcats. She also founded and hosted the annual "Kids Are Special Too" Community Easter Egg Hunt for 37 years in which her family will continue to have this annual event.
During her extensive career, Senator Thelma Harper served as chair of the Tennessee Commemorative Women's Suffrage Commission, Vice Chair of the Tennessee Healthcare Commission, member of the Tennessee Economic Council on Women, commissioner of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and co-chair of Commemorating Metro Nashville Government's 50th Anniversary.
Harper stayed actively engaged within the community through her memberships with various organizations. She was a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated and involved with numerous organizations as former President of the National Hook-Up of Black Women, the Nashville Women's Political Caucus, The NAACP, Links, Inc, the Urban League of Middle Tennessee, and Achievement Matters to name a few.
She truly understood the importance of getting involved and donated her time and energy as a member of the Board of Directors of the Nashville Symphony, the Third National Bank Economic Development Advisory Council, the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame Board of Directors, the Nashville Downtown Partnership Board, the Renewal House Advisory Board, Project Return, the YWCA Advisory Committee, the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Children's Home; the Board of Managers of Northwest YMCA, and the SunTrust Bank Economic Development Advisory Council.
• Establishment of a fee waiver to provide students from low-income homes with school supplies and lunches
• Sponsored mandatory insurance coverage of breast reconstruction symmetry for breast cancer survivors
• Sponsored and passed laws addressing domestic violence
• Increased legal protections to stop financial exploitation of the elderly by their caretakers
• Safe haven law to save abandoned babies and Co-Sponsored Day Care Incentive Act
• Sponsored programs which provided summer science camps for inner-city children
• Senate sponsor of the bill to establish the Tennessee Economic Council on Women in 1998, the only state agency dedicated to the research and status of women in Tennessee
• Successfully fought to close the Bordeaux Landfill and passed “a standard of fairness in the location of landfills”
• Sponsored legislation that renamed Metro Center Boulevard to Rosa Parks Blvd. in honor of the civil rights
• Passage of numerous amendments to state budgets to benefit the citizens of her district through job training programs, workforce development efforts, and getting funding for Tennessee State University and Meharry Medical College
• InstrumentalinsomeofNashville’sHistoricalmomentsinthedevelopmentoftheMusicCityCenter, the Downtown Nashville Library, bringing the NFL Titans Football team to Nashville, the Nashville Sounds Stadium, the National Museum of African American Music and the Tennessee State Museum.

Celebrating & Honoring
Schedule of Events Commemorating Senator Thelma Harper

"Serving Community First"
Schrader Lane Church of Christ
1234 Schrader Ln, Nashville, TN 37208
11:00 Am - 6:00 PM
*Mask Required"

"The People's Advocate in the Metro Council"
Historic Metropolitan Courthouse & City Hall
10:00 AM - 2:00 PM

"Hats off to Senator Thelma Harper"
Tennessee State Capitol
10:00 AM - 2:00 PM

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