James Mapp, who led a 26-year lawsuit to end school segregation in Chattanooga, and John Franklin, the first black elected to city government, will be among a dozen residents honored tonight at the 50th anniversary celebration of the Tennessee Human Rights Commission.
"We are recognizing people in Chattanooga who have made significant strides to make it a place where people want to live," said Beverly Watts, executive director of the commission that was started in September 1963.
Chattanooga is one of four cities where the state commission will honor local civil and human rights leaders and host celebrations before the anniversary celebration's culminating event in Nashville on Oct. 4.
The Tennessee Human Rights Commission's purpose is to protect people from discrimination by educating the public and enforcing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.
"The commission is a watchdog at the state level and a spokesman, a voice in terms of human relations," said the Rev. Paul McDaniel, a commission member. "It gives people a chance to seek some action to grievances that they have."
Every state agency receiving federal financial assistance must comply with Title VI, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color and national origin. The commission also enforces the Tennessee human rights law that forbids discrimination based on age, gender, familial status and disability.
The agency has achieved more than $15 million in relief for people who have experienced discrimination since 1978, when it became an enforcement agency.
But more importantly, the commission also effected policy changes and nonmonetary benefits, said Watts.
Companies that did not have a complaint process for alleged racial, age and gender discrimination have one now because of the Tennessee Human Rights Commission's efforts.
The commission also has a mediation program that may help complaints get settled faster than going to court.
"I would love to see ourselves going out of business, but we won't," said Watts. "So in the future I'd like to continue to enhance our mediation program. We recognize that when people can settle issues like discrimination as quickly as possible, people can get on with their lives."