Thelma Harper, “transformative” Tennessee legislator, dies

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Thelma Harper

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Former Tennessee senator Thelma Harper, who became the first African-American woman elected to the state Senate, has died. She was 80.

The longtime Nashville lawmaker’s daughter, Linda Harper, said in a statement that her mother died “peacefully and unexpectedly” Thursday while holding her hand.

Harper became a senator in 1989 and was first elected to her seat in 1991. She became the longest-serving female senator in Tennessee before she decided not to seek reelection in 2018.

Harper also served as the first chairperson of the Tennessee Black Caucus.

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