In the final installment of March's Women's History tribute, former state Reps. Tommie Brown and JoAnne Favors step into the spotlight. Both women, long active in Chattanooga as professionals and community volunteers, served with distinction as members of the Tennessee General Assembly.
Younger citizens today recognize the name of the Hamilton County magnet elementary school, the Tommie F. Brown International Academy, but may be less familiar with the woman who represented her district in Nashville.
Brown grew up in Chattanooga and discovered a love for learning. A graduate of Dillard University who would later earn a master's degree in social work from Washington University in St. Louis and a doctorate in social work from Columbia University in New York City, Brown worked for the Tennessee Department of Public Welfare and served as an associate professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, teaching for more than 25 years.
Translating her social work research into action, Brown became the lead plaintiff in a historic legal action, Brown v. Board of Commissioners of the City of Chattanooga. Her choice to challenge the status quo would change the election process, achieving more political representation for the African American community.
The case, filed in 1987, argued that a systematic political underrepresentation of the black population occurred as a result of "at-large" voting for the city commission-style government, alleging that that form of government was a direct violation of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.
U.S. District Judge R. Allan Edgar ruled in favor of Brown and her 11 co-plaintiffs. Chattanooga chose to develop nine districts that would more accurately represent the various neighborhoods and people of the city. The result was the creation of a mayor-council form of government with three districts structured to contain an African American majority population. The new system was implemented in 1992.
In 1992, Brown was elected to represent the Tennessee 29th Legislative District and would serve for 20 years in leadership roles, including vice-chairman of the Education Committee, chairman of the Higher Education Committee and as a member of the Finance Ways and Means Committee.
When legislative redistricting pitted Brown against her former campaign manager and a fellow member of the Hamilton County legislative delegation, JoAnne Favors, Brown was defeated. Her legacy as a former National Social Worker of the Year, an educational leader and political activist remains as a benchmark for future community leaders.
Before her election to the Tennessee House in 2004, JoAnne Favors served seven years as a member of the Hamilton County Commission. With an education background including bachelor's and master's degrees in nursing and nursing administration, Favors had worked in health administration in Hamilton County, been a member of the Erlanger Health System Board of Trustees and worked as a national health consultant.
Her expertise in health-related issues propelled her into House leadership including service as the secretary of the House Health and Human Resources Committee and membership on the Children and Family Affairs Committee, the Health and Human Resources Committee, the Domestic Relationship Subcommittee and the Public Health and Family Assistance Subcommittee.
Additional leadership positions included working as the House Democratic Whip and as chairman of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators. Favor's professional experience also provided expertise in her role as a member of the House Opioid Task Force, again allowing her to bridge segments of the community in the fight against the drug epidemic.
Only the third black state representative elected from Hamilton County since the end of the 19th century, succeeding the late C.B. Robinson and Brown, Favors served until 2019 when she chose to not seek re-election.
Her decision was met with appeals from the community to reconsider, but Favors, admitting the difficulty of the decision, declined. Citing her family responsibilities to great-grandchildren and her mother along with a desire to spend more time writing and working in her church, Favors thanked her constituents who had "elected me to serve seven very productive terms in the Tennessee General Assembly a distinct honor."
She reminded the voters that she had "made every effort to work for the good of the people," a claim not disputed by friends and colleagues from both sides of the House aisle.
While Favors may have left the hill, attendees at Hamilton County's recent 200th birthday celebration will recall with admiration her remarks about the importance of history and service to one's community. Look closely; JoAnne Favors still serves.
Linda Moss Mines, the Chattanooga-Hamilton County historian, also is regent, Chief John Ross Chapter, NSDAR.