Building named for local civil rights pioneer

State Rep. Tommie Brown remembers her father relaxing on the porch of her childhood home, spotting a young man walking down the street and saying, "look at him -- that little Mapp boy is going to be somebody someday."

On Saturday, the James R. Mapp State Office Building was named in honor of that same little boy who played a major role in desegregating Chattanooga city schools.

Mr. Mapp's desegregation work began when he sued the school system in 1960 to get a court order to integrate city schools. He lost his government job, received death threats and found a declining client base for the insurance and real estate agency he owned.

The lawsuit ushered in 27 years of court oversight of Chattanooga's desegregation efforts.

"I've seen it come down from the point where 'whites only' signs were here and 'colored only' signs were there," he said.

Mr. Mapp's eight children, who were educated in Chattanooga schools, attended the ceremony. He glowed when they were recognized, but the 82-year-old said his civil rights work never stopped with their education.

"We die in the wars, we pay our price, we pay our taxes, so my people need to be equally represented in jobs," he said.

He referred to racial inequalities he still sees in distribution of education funds, job opportunities and judges, some of whom are employed in the area surrounding the office named for him.

"We're still being omitted in a lot of buildings around here," he said.

Mr. Mapp called for the media to investigate job discrepancies between blacks and whites in several businesses including the county government, where he said he knows of "very few black workers."

"You can do a lot by exposing some of these things because it's good for our city," he said. "It will reduce crime and it will protect all of us."

Rep. Brown drove Saturday's name change through House Resolution 1335, which she wrote and sponsored. Both houses passed the bill in 2009 and several officials spoke during the ceremony.

"He did not have buildings being named after him in his day," Sen. Andy Berke said. "Instead he was shunned by many people in the community, ... but he saw what needed to be seen, said what needed to be said and did what needed to be done."

Rep. Brown said Mr. Mapp's statements represent a necessary driving force that should never lose intensity.

"Mr. Mapp's steps are slower now, but ours are not," Rep. Brown said.

Employees from the Departments of Children Services, Human Services, Labor and Workforce Development and General Services work inside the building's 183,000-square-foot frame.