Ms. Harper was the primary chair of the Tennessee Black Caucus. Within the mid-2000s she efficiently pushed to have a stretch of U.S. Freeway 41 in Nashville renamed in honor of the civil rights hero Rosa Parks.
She additionally had a nationwide presence. In 2000 she launched Vice President Al Gore, the presidential nominee, on the Democratic Nationwide Conference at Madison Sq. Backyard in New York in a speech referred to as “The Al Gore I Know,” by which she described his time as an elected official in Tennessee.
“Like many households,” she mentioned within the speech, “after we referred to as upon Al Gore, he at all times listened to our voices. He at all times responded to our wants. And he at all times fought on our facet.”
In 2008, she was a frontrunner in Hillary Clinton’s presidential marketing campaign in Tennessee.
Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, a Republican, referred to as Ms. Harper a “transformative public determine,” “a fierce advocate for her constituents and town of Nashville” and a task mannequin. In a tribute on Twitter, he made reference to her fondness for eye-catching hats.
“At the moment the legendary Thelma Harper traded in her signature hat for a halo,” he wrote.
Thelma Harper was born on Dec. 2, 1940, in Brentwood, Tenn., simply south of Nashville. She earned a bachelor’s diploma in enterprise administration and accounting at Tennessee State College in Nashville in 1978. Earlier than becoming a member of the State Senate, she served for eight years on Nashville’s Metro Council. Her husband, Paul, died in 2018.