‘Hard on my family:’ Lafferty on national criticism

Knoxville’s McKenzie on House speech: ‘it was an eerie and sad feeling’

Admitting the past week-plus of racially charged criticism “has been hard on my family” — reaching national levels as stories ran on CNN and in The New York Times among many other worldwide media outlets — state Rep. Justin Lafferty (R-District 89 including Hardin Valley) stated to farragutpress he needs “a little time” to properly respond to the criticism and give clarification to his “Three-Fifths Compromise” speech on the House floor of Tennessee General Assembly Tuesday afternoon, May 4.

“Thankfully we have many friends in our lives that have reached out to us,” he added in an e-mailed statement to farragutpress Sunday, May 9, in response to a series of questions sent to Lafferty late last week.

“Please allow me a little time and I will try to address your questions in a follow-up e-mail.”

Lafferty defended the Compromise, where Northern and Southern states agreed to Constitutionally label African-Americans as three-fifths of a person — the South originally wanting slaves counted fully but Northern states not wanting slaves counted at all — to ensure national unity in the fight for independence against “world power” Great Britain, along with representation considerations during the 1787 Constitutional Convention.

He did, however, reference what “our Founders ... wrote frequently, and for long times, about what this stain of slavery would do to our country.”

That led to another point of criticism from Lafferty’s speech, when he said the Compromise had a noble purpose concerning abolishment of slavery:

“... The Three-Fifths Compromise was a direct effort to ensure that Southern states never got the population necessary to continue the practice of slavery everywhere else in the country. What does that mean? Appropriation based on population.”

He continued: “... By limiting the number of population in the count, they specifically limited the number of representatives that would be available in the slave-holding states, and they did it for the purpose of ending slavery. ...”


Many African-American leaders and politicians have been front-and-center among those criticizing Lafferty for a lack of sensitivity in the speech.

State Rep. Torrey C. Harris (D-District 90, West Tennessee) stated Lafferty’s comments “implied the Three-Fifths Compromise was a good thing and something we should celebrate. ... As a black man, resident of Tennessee and lawmaker, I am disgusted we have a state governed by some lawmakers who would uphold a claim that my ancestors aren’t fully human. ...”

State Rep. Sam McKenzie (D-District 15, Knoxville) said during an appearance on CNN, “it was an eerie and sad feeling” to hear the speech “because we’re both from the same county. ... There is nothing right about his conclusion. And to hear the round of applause just spoke to the lack of knowledge of the people who are elected to write laws for our state. ...”

Saying he spoke to Lafferty after the speech, McKenzie described it as “uncomfortable at first; but he and I have a relationship and a dialogue. We had a very collegial conversation” despite their differences.

Attempts to contact Knoxville Chapter of the NAACP and a Constitutional expert at the University of Tennessee for comment were unsuccessful.

House Bill 0580

His Three-Fifths Compromise speech came during debate on House Bill 0580, which sponsor John Ragan (R-District 33, Oak Ridge) said was “to add clarity to our state standards for education.” Opponents said the bill sought to limit the teaching of “Critical Race Theory,” systemic racism, in schools. The bill passed.