The Making of a Radical

Thaddeus Matthews says it goes back to busing and 1973.


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The consolidation proposal and the contested August election in which local Democrats lost several races have sparked some strong language that's reminiscent of the turbulent 1960s.

One of those doing the talking, no surprise, is blogger and radio host Thaddeus Matthews, who says "power brokers" are out to undercut black voter clout. "Some people need to go to jail" over the election, he says, and if they don't, then it could be time to "economically shut this city down." As for Memphis mayor A C Wharton, "we'll take care of him next year" when he runs for reelection, Matthews says.

It must be noted, of course, that Matthews loves controversy, shoots from the lip, and was an enemy and then an ally of former Mayor Willie Herenton, who got slaughtered by Congressman Steve Cohen in the Democratic primary. He is routinely called a race-baiter, vulgar, fat, Thud, and much worse.

What's significant is that Matthews made the above comments in a church filled with a church crowd — middle-aged or older men and women and several mainstream Democrats and former public officials, who greeted his nine-minute speech with loud applause and cries of "that's right." His baritone delivery was measured, coherent, and effective. Flyer reporter Jackson Baker attended the meeting and wrote about and recorded it on his "Politics" blog. One of those cheering on Matthews was sheriff runner-up and Cohen buddy, Randy Wade, who, after joking about all the names Matthews is called, said "that N-word is my friend."

Anti-consolidation sentiment is running nearly as strong in some parts of the black community in Memphis as it is in suburban Shelby County. The Shelby County Democratic Party opposes it, as does a biracial coalition of eight Shelby County Commission members. This is prime fodder for Matthews' blog and his radio show on WPLX-AM 1180. The fact that he's on the same side of the issue as people who hate his guts doesn't bother him a bit.

"What does consolidation do for the African-American community? Nothing," said Matthews, who lives in Shelby County just outside the Memphis city limits. "It's total disenfranchisement. If you already have the power base, why would you give it up?"

Matthews, 53, says he was "born radical." He was attending all-black Manassas High School and playing first trumpet in the band under noted musician Emerson Able when school busing started in 1972. He was bused to majority-white Frayser High for his senior year, relegated to third trumpet, told to sit in the back of the auditorium with the other black male students, and got suspended for leading a walkout. He wound up graduating from Northside.

He started blogging in 2005. He took a three-month hiatus this summer to work on his radio program and resumed blogging this week.

"I'm listed as a racist," he said in an interview in his office in the Pinch District. "I have never said black folks should hate whites. On my show yesterday I said it's not the white man's fault. We have allowed certain things to happen because of our black leaders. We want to give all of our money to the black church, and we have not prepared our community to be economically viable."

His favorite targets are Wharton, "old fossils" on the NAACP, parents who let their kids wear baggy pants to school, and consolidation. He is organizing a meeting this week on Beale Street for youth, with no politicians allowed.

"There is no One Memphis," he says. "That was just a PR statement. White Democrats had a choice in the August election, and they crossed over and voted Republican. They bloc-voted. I think the African-American community has to bloc-vote too."

Democrats lost several local races to Republicans and are expected to lose congressional seats in November. If it stirs the pot, it's fine with Matthews. On his website this week, he promises to post about blacks who played a role in the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.

"Tell all your friends," he says on the website. "I'm about to kick ass again and bring you the documents no one wants to see."

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