Tennessee Senate gives final approval to Rep. Hakeem's Black history bill, sends measure to governor

Staff file photo / State Rep. Yusuf Hakeem speaks during a picnic event hosted by the Hamilton County Democratic Party on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

NASHVILLE - Legislation requiring Tennessee public schools to integrate Black history and culture into social studies curriculum in grades five through eight is headed to Gov. Bill Lee after winning final approval in the Senate.

Senators gave final approval to the previously passed House Bill 2106 on a 27-3 vote.

The House bill, sponsored by Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, D-Chattanooga, was approved last week on an 80-2 vote.

Sen. Raumesh Akbari, a Black Memphis Democrat who sponsored the measure in the Senate, said in a statement that "the Tennessee General Assembly said every child should have access to history lessons that share a rich, more complete story of America.

"The achievements of great Americans - Black, white and brown - are accomplishments for everyone to learn from and celebrate," Akbari added.

The Senate vote came Tuesday.

Lee, who has not said what he intends to do with the bill, can sign, veto or allow a measure to become law without his signature. It would take effect in the 2025-26 school year.

Akbari said a fact-based, "complete" view of history could be an "antidote for racial division."

"African Americans are more than just slavery and the civil rights movement," she said. "We are still achieving historic firsts - the first Black woman to be vice president, the first Black woman confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Black history is American history, and these are important milestones, not just for African Americans, but for the country as a whole," she added.

Last year, the House bill failed to make it out of committee and was not included among a slate of bills for summer study, generating a rare outburst from Hakeem, who is Black.

He vowed to bring the bill back and worked with white Republican colleagues to find an approach they would accept, which included having the curriculum approved by the State Board of Education. The bill moved much more smoothly this year.

After the bill passed last week, Hakeem told the Times Free Press in a phone interview that, "I think it says something about our legislature that they look, I guess, at the manner in which I put forth the bill.

"I sought and received input from both sides of the aisle on this bill. And with God's help, the grace of God, they saw fit to move this bill forward," Hakeem said.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.