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The Honorable A C Wharton, Jr.

Mayor A C Wharton, Jr. was born on August 17, 1944 in Lebanon, Tennessee. In 1966, he graduated from Tennessee State University with his B.A. degree in political science. Wharton then received his J.D. degree in 1971 from the University of Mississippi School of Law, where he graduated with honors and was one of the first African American students to serve on the Moot Court Board and the first to serve on the Judicial Council.

Wharton first worked in Washington, D.C., at the Office of General Council of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for two years, and then for a year at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, where he headed the Public Employment Project. In 1973, Wharton moved to Memphis, Tennessee and was hired as executive director of Memphis Area Legal Services, a nonprofit organization providing civil legal assistance to low-income citizens. Then, in 1974, he became the University of Mississippi’s first African American professor of law, a position that he would hold for twenty-five years.

In 1980, then-Shelby County, Tennessee mayor, Bill Morris, appointed Wharton as Shelby County’s Chief Public Defender. Wharton chaired the county’s Jail Overcrowding Committee; and, in 1982, wrote and saw passed one of the first state laws in the United States to combat domestic violence. In addition to his role as a public defender, Wharton and his wife established the law firm of Wharton and Wharton in 1980.

In 2002, Wharton was elected as the first African American Mayor of Shelby County, and was re-elected in 2006. As Shelby County Mayor, he established Operation Safe Community, the area's first comprehensive crime-fighting plan, developed the community’s first smart growth and sustainability plan, and tackled education and early childhood development issues with programs like “Books from Birth” and “Ready, Set, Grow.” Wharton also improved the management and accountability of the County's Head Start program. His reforms attracted the attention of the United States Congress, where he was called to testify before the House Committee on Education.

In October of 2009, Wharton was elected as the Mayor of the City of Memphis, and was re-elected in 2011. He is a member of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns Coalition, and has addressed major policy institutions and conferences of the Brookings Institute, CEOs for Cities, and the National Association for Counties.

Wharton lives in Memphis with his wife, Ruby. They have raised six sons.

A C Wharton was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on April 26, 2014.

Accession Number

A2014.126

Sex

Male

Interview Date

4/26/2014

Last Name

Wharton

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Occupation
Schools

Market Street Elementary PS

Wilson County Training School

Harvard Law School

Tennessee State University

University of Mississippi

First Name

A C

Birth City, State, Country

Lebanon

HM ID

WHA02

Favorite Season

Fall, Winter

State

Tennessee

Favorite Vacation Destination

New York City

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Tennessee

Birth Date

8/17/1944

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Memphis

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Oatmeal

Short Description

Mayor The Honorable A C Wharton, Jr. (1944 - ) was elected Mayor of the City of Memphis, Tennessee in 2009. He was also the first black mayor of Shelby County, Tennessee and the first African American law professor at the University of Mississippi.

Employment

City of Memphis

Shelby County Government

Wharton Law Firm

University of Mississippi

Memphis Area Legal Services

Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Office of General Counsel

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - The Honorable A C Wharton, Jr. talks about the origin of his name

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - The Honorable A C Wharton, Jr. recalls a lesson from his father, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - The Honorable A C Wharton, Jr. recalls a lesson from his father, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Slating of The Honorable A C Wharton, Jr.'s interview

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - The Honorable A C Wharton, Jr. lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - The Honorable A C Wharton, Jr. describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - The Honorable A C Wharton, Jr. remembers his maternal grandmother

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - The Honorable A C Wharton, Jr. describes his maternal grandfather

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - The Honorable A C Wharton, Jr. talks about his mother's aspirations

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - The Honorable A C Wharton, Jr. talks about his mother's career as a barber

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - The Honorable A C Wharton, Jr. describes his father's family background

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - The Honorable A C Wharton, Jr. recalls his father's first grocery business

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - The Honorable A C Wharton, Sr. talks about his early understanding of reproduction

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - The Honorable A C Wharton, Jr. recalls his parents' religious affiliations

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - The Honorable A C Wharton, Jr. lists his siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - The Honorable A C Wharton, Jr. recalls his father's work schedule

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - The Honorable A C Wharton, Jr. describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - The Honorable A C Wharton, Jr. describes his family's home in Lebanon, Tennessee

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - The Honorable A C Wharton, Jr. talks about the farming economy in Lebanon, Tennessee

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - The Honorable A C Wharton, Jr. recalls the history of Tater Peeler Road

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - The Honorable A C Wharton, Jr. describes the sights and smells of his childhood

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - The Honorable A C Wharton, Jr. remembers his work ethic as a child

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - The Honorable A C Wharton, Jr. describes his family's reading habits

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - The Honorable A C Wharton, Jr. recalls selling Baltimore Afro-American newspapers

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - The Honorable A C Wharton, Jr. remembers the influence of his teachers

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - The Honorable A C Wharton, Jr. remembers Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - The Honorable A C Wharton, Jr. remembers the murder of Emmett Till

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - The Honorable A C Wharton, Jr. describes the telephone system in the 1950s

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$3

DAStory

3$6

DATitle
The Honorable A C Wharton, Jr. recalls a lesson from his father, pt. 2
The Honorable A C Wharton, Jr. describes his family's reading habits
Transcript
But I'll, I'll never forget. I can see my daddy [A.C. Wharton, Sr.] right now sitting right by the kitchen door, taking his shoes off. And I finally got the nerve up, 'cause I was--I had to make a decision: was I gonna go to school, or was I gonna do what Mr. Tatum [ph.] told me to do? So finally I just said, "Daddy, Mr. Tatum said I don't have to go to school tomorrow. We got to finish those rocks--finish that fence." And he said, "You just go with me tomorrow morning." I didn't know what that meant. So as opposed to walking to school with the other boys, I got in the car with daddy. And we drove over to my daddy's place of work. He also worked for this--for Mr. Tatum. My daddy was a very mild man, never raised his voice. But he went to Mr. Tatum. I'll never forget that. Mr. Tatum was sitting at his desk. And my daddy said, "I understand you told Brother [HistoryMaker A C Wharton, Jr.] he didn't have to go to school tomorrow." And he said, "Mr. Tatum," he said, "I work for you, and I'll do what you tell me to here on the job." He said, "But when it comes to my house, I tell my children what to do. He's going to school." "Ah," he said, "I didn't mean no harm. I didn't mean--I, I didn't mean any harm." My daddy was a short man, but my daddy stood about ten feet tall. It was just a load was lifted off of me because I was so afraid that that man was gonna fire my daddy, which would jeopardize my sisters, my little brother [Kenneth Wharton] all because of me running my big mouth. But my daddy stood like a giant once he said that, didn't raise his voice, didn't curse, didn't make any threats, but he just stood up. And it just seared indelibly in my mind the importance of education. I just don't see how young folks can squander all these opportunities. When my daddy just went way out there on a limb I mean, see, and if he had lost that job, see, he could have gotten blackballed because that man was well respected in the community. And if the word got out, "That Wharton guy there has got a lot of mouth, uppity," or whatever. I mean think of the pain and suffering that could have caused my family.$$Yeah. Yeah, that's quite a story.$Did your parents teach you to read at home? I mean, did, did your mother [Mary Seay Wharton] or, or, or father [A.C. Wharton, Sr.] or--$$Oh, my mom will tell--yeah, I wish she were here to tell. But once I got into it, I, I got frustrated. I would hear my mother read magazines and newspapers and things at night, and she would read them aloud quite often. And I didn't know how a newspaper worked, but I remember she had read me a story out of the paper one day about something. And I don't know why I thought the newspaper would be the same every day. But shortly after, once I got the swing of the first grade [Market Street Elementary School, Lebanon, Tennessee] I grabbed the newspaper and started looking for the same story she had read me. But I didn't know it didn't show up every day like a book that was there (laughter). Yes, she did read to us. Then we had Sunday school, where the Sunday school teacher [at Market Street Church of Christ, Lebanon, Tennessee] would teach us to read from a little card, Bible verses and things like that even before, even before school. They would just give you the word, and you'd repeat it, whatever. And there as a, there was a real respect for the printed page in my family. Let me tell you one thing, my [maternal] grandmother [Dessie Manning Seay] and others would go off to do housework, domestic work. And it's kind of funny. It's sick, but in a way it's kind of funny how they would maybe pay them a dollar but then give them a bunch of junk to make them feel good, old magazines, stuff that was so old, dog-eared, just anything to make, make--give them--feel I'm giving them something. But we had a rule in my house, no matter how old Life magazine was or Reader's Digest, if it came in the front door, it did not go out the back door until you read it. I remember trying to read the Reader's Digest, every once in a while an old National Geographic, a Sears [Sears, Roebuck and Co.] catalog. If you came in it, in that front door, you tried to read it. And my mom knew this, and this is why she bought our set of encyclopedia, Funk and Wagnalls [Funk and Wagnalls Standard Encyclopedia], which we still have, still on the bookshelf to this day, one book at a time. Can you imagine that? It took maybe two years, maybe three years, 'cause you'd get one volume. You'd mail in fifty cent, and you'd get another one. And it took forever for us to get that one set of Funk and Wagnalls encyclopedia that, as I say, the books are still there. My mother really sacrificed to make sure that this was one family that had some books in the house, made all the difference in the world.