Candidate Marquita Bradshaw could make history on November 3 as Tennessee’s first black female United States Senator, and she’s no stranger to beating the odds.
Bradshaw grew up in a working-class neighborhood in South Memphis. Her father was an iron worker and her mother, Doris DeBerry-Bradshaw, worked at a bank. The family of eight lived in a three-bedroom house, her two brothers in one room, and four girls in the other. Her great grandparents, who she affectionately calls “Ma’ Dear” and “Papa Starling”, lived next door.
When Bradshaw was in high school, her mother Doris suffered an on the job injury that took her out of the workforce. After her back surgery, Doris had to learn how to walk again. As a result, Bradshaw assumed a bigger role in the family. Doris taught her how to pay bills and balance the family finances.
1995 was the year of the Base Closure Act, which closed the nearby Army Depot Facility. It was that year Bradshaw gave birth to her son. Ma’ Dear coached her through breastfeeding while she was dying of cancer. Bradshaw recalls that many people in her neighborhood died of cancer.
“Sickness and death became more prevalent in my community,” says Bradshaw.
After Ma’ Dear and Papa Starling died, Bradshaw’s mother formed the Defense Depot Memphis TN Concerned Citizen Committee (DDMT-CCC), which had over 2500 members.
“My father, Kenneth, a brilliant writer, contributed greatly to the organization and served as the first Project Director,” says Bradshaw. “Over half the initial members died within a year due to illnesses related to the depot.”
The Army Defense Depot of Memphis was more than a storage and distribution center for the Army. It also served as a 640-acre landfill for any type of material that was disposed of, compensated, or stockpiled from any war between 1945-1955. Some of the most destructive chemicals used to kill vegetation and human beings were stored there. Three hundred and ninety-five of those chemicals were known to be linked to cancer.
“There are so many issues in my District,” says Bradshaw. “The people in my District have seen their needs ignored for so many years. We have disparities in education, healthcare, and workers’ rights just to name a few. I will continue to listen to the members of my state. I am visiting all counties in Tennessee and I am listening to all of the needs. My policy will be based on what the communities need.”
Bradshaw doesn’t take the honor of being the first Black female U.S. Senate nominee in Tennessee’s history lightly and knows that she has become a role model. She follows in the footsteps of great Black women like her mother, Doris, who fought for environmental justice for the South Memphis community she was raised in.
“I am a Black woman raised in South Memphis, and I am running for Senate as the Democratic nominee,” says Bradshaw. “Many have said that could never happen, but look where I am now!”
Bradshaw says her activism taught her to stand on principles. The work she has done for environmental justice was not for popularity, but because her community was harmed.
“I was harmed,” says Bradshaw. “My family was harmed. I did not want to see these injustices inflicted on any communities. The loss, the hurt and the illnesses that we have had to endure as a community of people is not something I want to see inflicted on other communities of people. My activism has taught me to be bold and to fight for the rights of all people.”
Bradshaw has toured the entire state the past few months, gaining momentum and quite a few endorsements, including one from former presidential candidate, Senator Elizabeth Warren.
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Early voting begins in Tennessee October 14 and runs through October 29. Out & About Nashville will be watching the Bradshaw vs. Haggerty race and will keep you updated on election day, November 3, 2020.