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VOL. 132 | NO. 72 | Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Civil Rights Activist Owens Calls Out Memphis Lawmaker

By Sam Stockard

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Memphis civil rights activist Bill Owens, who campaigned for Republican Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential race, is criticizing a state legislator who refused to back his political efforts in a statement on the House floor.

Owens, president of the Coalition of African American Pastors, a group dedicated to Christ-centered and traditional family values talked Tuesday in Memphis of what a press release termed “the backlash and racial tirade” from Democratic Rep. Antonio Parkinson of Memphis.

The press release sent out by the Hollis Media Group says CAAP announced its next steps against “judicial advocacy that’s aimed to intimidate Christians and their views.”

Primarily, though, it targets Parkinson, saying he tried to “bully and chastise the elder statesman for his political positions as a fellow black person for not voting for Mrs. Clinton immediately following a moving ceremony that honored Owens’ lifetime work recently” in a House session.

“It’s a sad day when politicians overreach their moral and judicial authority to attempt to intimidate and control individual conscience of private citizens and makes authoritative suggestions of how one should cast their vote. As a Christian, I vote my conscience, not a party,” Owens said in the release.

“This type of progressive bullying by politicians seems to be the new norm adopted by liberals, and for a sitting representative to attack my God-given rights to follow the tenets of my faith is not in the best interest of serving the ‘will of the people,’” the statement says. “My decision to not vote for former Secretary Hillary Clinton is personal; she challenged the religious liberties of Christians, citing, ‘we have to change our outdated religious views.’ I could not support that. No political party has the right to challenge the private rights of anyone for voting their conscience. This is very disconcerting. I find the approach that took place in the joint House session deeply offensive and I question how often people of color have met this type of suppression. I am pursuing to obtain this information.”

Parkinson, who declined comment Monday, made his statements during a Thursday morning House session after members of the Tennessee Black Caucus and other legislators, at the request of Memphis Democratic Rep. John DeBerry, gathered to honor the lifelong work of Owens with a resolution recognizing his efforts in civil rights, education and in founding CAAP.

Parkinson clarified his position later that day after receiving information about Owens’ work on behalf of the Trump campaign last year.

“Earlier today, we recognized and honored Rev. Bill Owens for his civil rights work. But there were some things that he was part of recently that I as a Democrat do not endorse, and I want to make sure that it’s public that I don’t support some of the things that he has done here recently,” Parkinson said.

Parkinson said he supported Owens’ civil rights activities at the time of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and came to the defense of DeBerry, who, he said, has “integrity above all” but didn’t know about some of Owens’ activities during the 2016 presidential campaign.

“And with that, Madame Speaker, I just want to make it publicly known that state Rep. Antonio Parkinson does not support or endorse the recent activities of Rev. Bill Owens,” he said.

Numerous reports show Owens endorsed Trump and called on black voters to leave the Democratic Party last fall.

“Donald Trump asked black voters and Christians to give him a chance and that’s exactly what we did,” Owens is quoted as saying in several published reports. “The Coalition of African American Pastors launched a sustained campaign to persuade black voters to stop letting themselves be used by the failed policies and empty promises of Democratic politicians. It is clear this is a message that resonated with many voters and helped make Mr. Trump our next president.”

CBNNews.com reported Owens said the “one-sided” relationship between blacks and the Democratic Party led to the destruction of black communities, weak families and a “future of dependency.” In addition, he said Democrats take black people’s votes for granted and ignore them in favor of interest groups.

According to the report, Owens’ wife, Deborah Owens, appealed to black women voters in the 2016 election by saying the Democratic Party is “anti-life, anti-traditional marriage, anti-Christ and anti-religion.”

Sam Stockard is a Nashville-based reporter covering the Legislature for the Memphis Daily News. He can be reached at sstockard44@gmail.com.

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