E Pluribus Unum 

Our mailbag — okay, our e-mail in-box, this being 2011 — is filling up with unsolicited communications from the likes of Bill Wood and Denise Martin — Republican activists, if you will. Staunch conservatives.

Loyal rank-and-file types you see at every local GOP event. And what is it that prompts them to write? Nothing less than the monolithic Republican vote corralled into obedience in the Tennessee General Assembly last week for the ultimate purpose of suppressing — or, at the very least, redirecting and co-opting — the self-determination of the citizens of Memphis.

Undeceived by the stated premises of the Norris-Todd bill, passed on party-line vote in both Senate and House last week, Wood recognizes that the measure is meant not to facilitate the forthcoming citywide referendum on de facto merger of the Memphis and Shelby County school districts but to defeat that outcome with its climactic loophole allowing a special school district in suburban Shelby County.

Says Wood, the immediate past president of the East Shelby County Republican Club, the county's largest: The members of an "illegitimate" county school board "are fanatically pursuing a special school district which would divide Shelby County into an affluent mostly white portion and a less affluent mostly black portion."

And Martin, in a widely circulated e-mail: "This shows that you can go and change the law midstream on anything that you don't like. I am not the only Republican that is upset over this. I never thought that I would see the day that I would support the Democrats over my fellow Republicans. This is just sickening."

Some of us were struck by the unintentional irony of Norris' contention — meant to be a case-clincher — that a unified Shelby County School District would be the 16th largest in the United States. That would be something on the order of Dallas, Norris lamented, as if a comparison to the booming metropolis of the Texas plains should cause us to hang our heads in shame. The senator followed that up with the solemn assertion that the teaching corps and administrations for such a district as might be created by a merger would be "larger than most towns." Then he offered a kindly smile and a pause for the thought to mushroom into — what? A sense of horror?

It bears pointing out to Norris that, like Nashville/Davidson County itself, Memphis and Shelby County together constitute an entity within which several shopping-center malls are larger and more populous than many towns.

In the words of Walt Whitman, the legendary American poet of the 19th century, we are large, we contain multitudes. We may or may not end up with a unitary school district in Shelby County, but it's possible we could end up with something we haven't experienced since the days of Boss Crump — a Memphis unified in sentiment and purpose, fueled by the power of outrage, and soaring on the wings of conviction.

For which, in the long run, we may, oddly enough, have Mark Norris and his House partner, Curry Todd, to thank.


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