A resolution opposing refugee resettlement locally is on the agenda to be considered Tuesday by the Greene County Commission.
Moved to Tuesday due to the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, the meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in the Criminal Courtroom on the top floor of the Greene County Courthouse.
The commission is set to consider a resolution that seeks for Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee to inform federal resettlement agencies which maintain operations in the state that “they may not place arriving refugees in non-consenting counties, including specifically Greene County.”
It was unclear Friday what effect a federal judge’s ruling this week blocking President Donald Trump’s policy of allowing local jurisdictions to refuse the settlement of refugees might have on the resolution.
According to U.S. law, a refugee is defined as a person who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her home country because of a well-founded fear of persecution due to such factors as race, membership in a particular social group, political opinion, religion or national origin.
The proposed resolution, sponsored by Commissioner Jason Cobble, also states that Greene County does not want to be forced into participating in the federal refugee resettlement program due to consent Lee gave last month for initial resettlement in the state that does not provide a provision to exempt non-consenting counties.
Lee has defended his position and cautioned people to not be misinformed about refugees and not confuse them with illegal immigrants. The governor said he based his decision on his Christian faith and his own service abroad and at home with refugees. In addition, he said that accepting refugees gives states some control in the process.
The resolution also seeks for Lee to retract his consent for initial resettlement for both the one-year time period he stated in his communication to the federal government and/or the four-months required by the federal funding notice about the resettlement program. If the governor does not retract his consent, the resolution seeks that he resubmit his consent, providing an exemption for counties that do not want to participate.
President Donald Trump has set a refugee admission cap for the 2019-20 fiscal year at 18,000, and he issued an executive order last fall that requires written consent from both the governor and the chief executive officer of the local county government for the initial resettlement of refugees into specific communities.
The president’s order requiring the governor and local official consent has been legally contested by three resettlement agencies. Earlier this week, a federal judge in Maryland issued a preliminary injunction halting the order, ruling that state and local officials cannot block the placement of refugees in their jurisdictions.
U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte in Maryland said in his ruling that the president’s order “flies in the face of clear Congressional intent” of the 1980 Refugee Act by allowing local control over whether refugees will be accepted into a jurisdiction. The White House called the ruling “preposterous” in a statement and asserted that Congress in the Refugee Act gave the president authority over the refugee resettlement process.
In Tennessee, resettlement agencies maintain offices in the major metropolitan counties of Knox, Hamilton, Davidson and Shelby. It is expected that the Knox County Mayor Glen Jacobs will issue a letter of consent.
However, the resolution notes that federally contracted refugee settlement agencies are allowed to resettle different groups anywhere from 50 to 100 miles away from their offices in consenting counties.
Greene County would be within the area that a Knox County resettlement agency could select for placement of refugees. The resolution notes that in the past, refugees have been resettled in Johnson City.
Indivisible Greene County has indicated that it plans to have a representative speak in opposition to the resolution during the public comment part of the meeting and will ask that it not be passed.
A message left for Cobble on Friday was not returned.
In other action, the commission will consider the purchase of two ambulances and heart monitors for the Greeneville-Greene County Emergency Medical Services. The cost for the two ambulances is estimated at $380,000, and a cost of $310,000 is estimated for nine heart monitors. The $690,000 in funds for the purchases will be taken from unassigned fund balance reserves.
The ambulance purchase is this year’s scheduled replacement of two vehicles as part of the Emergency Medical Services’ recommended plan to replace its fleet incrementally. Agency officials told the EMS Board last week that if the ambulances are ordered soon, the vehicles can be manufactured as part of the current production schedule and be delivered later this year, as well as the ambulances that were ordered last year as part of the replacement cycle.
The purchase of the heart monitors is also a replacement for existing equipment nearing the end of service life.
Purchases of $80,000 in solid waste equipment for upgrading convenience centers and making roll-off containers available for rental to businesses, manufactures and individuals will also be considered by the commission.
The purchase, to be paid for from the Solid Waste Department’s undesignated fund balance, includes two compactors for convenience centers and nine roll-off open top containers. The purchase of the roll-off containers has been pursued as a possible revenue stream to counter the increased contract costs for solid waste disposal.
Other budgetary items to be considered by the commission are two fund transfers for the Greene County Schools. One regards a budget amendment to transfer $158,532 from the system’s undesignated fund balance for facility improvements at Mosheim to prepare for the middle school conversion. The other is an amendment to reflect $273,195 in state grant funds the district has received for the purchase of six propane-fueled buses.
Also on the agenda are an increase in budgeted revenues of $52,994 for the Sheriff’s Department from a variety of sources to be used for equipment and personnel expenses and a resolution for the county to participate in state deferred retirement plans.
The flow of methamphetamine continues unabated from a pipeline that begins in Mexico, passes through major cities like Atlanta and finds its way to Northeast Tennessee, members of the Greene County Anti-Drug Coalition were told Thursday.
Coalition members heard a presentation called “Drugs 101” focusing on the meth crises from sheriff’s Lt. Nick Milligan during its monthly meeting at the Greene County Health Department.
Milligan offered an overview of the situation that included a history of meth use in Greene County, its origins and use in World War II, and the current threat the highly addictive drug poses to young people.
Until Mexican drug cartels took over manufacture and distribution of nearly-pure quantities of meth in recent years, the primary challenge to law enforcement was locating out-of-the-way meth labs operated by locals who obtained the volatile chemicals necessary to make the drug.
Explosions and fires associated with highly flammable materials used in meth cooking operations were not uncommon, Milligan told about 30 coalition members on hand for the presentation.
Meth labs eventually fell out of favor and gave way to a method of making the drug that could be completed in a large soda bottle. But with the flood of high-quality Mexican meth coming into the area, the “shake and bake” method has also largely disappeared, Milligan said.
“We used to have meth labs. No more. (Mexican meth) is better and it’s cheaper,” Milligan said.
Kenneth Bailey Jr., General Sessions and Juvenile courts judge, asked Milligan to explain how people use the drug.
He said meth is smoked, snorted or injected.
The longer someone takes the drug, the more likely they are to use a needle to inject it to get a better high, added Craig Duncan, director of the 3rd Judicial District Drug Task Force. Duncan and Sheriff Wesley Holt also answered questions from coalition members.
“They smoke it, and after a while they’re snorting it, and that’s not good enough and then they inject it,” Duncan said.
There is strong profit incentive for some to sell the drug despite harsh penalties. Bailey said he recently had two 19-year-olds in court who were making about $100,000 a year.
“It’s unreal,” he said.
The contrast between profits and lifestyles can be stark among those who use and sell methamphetamine.
“They will live in a house you wouldn’t let a dog live in and have $10,000 in a shoebox,” Milligan said.
Once someone gets high on meth, they have to increase the amount taken in order to achieve the same effect.
“As long as you do it, the more it takes to get you high,” Milligan said. “Once you get that first high, the more you do the more you have to do.”
Milligan also discussed the history of the drug. A form of meth was developed in Germany in 1887 and methamphetamine, more potent and easy to make, was developed in Japan in 1919. Methamphetamine was widely used during World War II, when German, Japanese and Allied soldiers used it to keep awake. High doses were given to Japanese Kamikaze pilots before their suicide missions, Milligan said.
In the 1950s, methamphetamine was prescribed in the U.S. as a diet aid and to fight depression and was used as a non-medical stimulant by college students, truck drivers and athletes. Abuse of the drug spread.
Methamphetamine keeps users up for days, diminishes their mental ability and induces some people to do seemingly bizarre things.
“They’re out in the streets running naked, they’re going into peoples’ houses, it can do permanent damage to the brain,” Holt said.
Bailey observed that it takes from four to six months for regular meth users accepted into Greene County Recovery Court “before we feel we are having really good conversation.”
Milligan said local law enforcement officers frequently encounter meth users on calls.
“Hallucinations is a big thing out there. People will (also) be very paranoid,” he said. “If you have a fight with them, they don’t feel much pain.”
Many individuals charged with selling meth are now also found with guns, a further threat to police, Milligan said.
It’s difficult to stop using meth once it becomes a regular habit, Milligan told coalition members.
“It’s like like everything else. Once you get addicted to it, it’s hard (to stop),” he said. “I’ve had (users), they actually don’t like doing it but they would rather be high than sick.”
The opioid epidemic gripping the region remains a reality, but the meth crises is also very real, Milligan said.
“It’s two different things,” he said.
Drugs like heroin and fentanyl causing overdoses in larger cities like Knoxville are not as prevalent in Greene County.
“Our problem with meth is overwhelming, but it’s not like that,” Duncan said.
“Meth is so prevalent out here it’s their drug of choice,” Milligan added.
Meth now available on the streets provides a much more potent high, and a higher possibility to become addicted.
“If you make a better ice cream than I make you’re going to go get it,” Milligan said.
Addicts trying to get money to pay for meth will shoplift, commit burglaries and get involved in other crimes to obtain the drug. When they are eventually arrested, they present healthcare problems.
“There’s a medical downside. They have sores on their skin and they’re shooting up with needles so (some) have hepatitis,” Holt said. “You have to treat all of that on the medical side.”
Bailey has seen teenagers in Juvenile Court who have experimented with meth. One 15-year-old told the judge “they just wanted to try it.”
“That terrifies me,” Bailey said. “What terrifies me is teenagers trying meth and that’s scary.”
Holt said programs like L.E.A.D., which is taught by School Resource Officers in county schools, will hopefully communicate to young people that meth and other drugs are very dangerous.
Law Enforcement Against Drugs partners with educators, community leaders, and families to help deter young people from drug use.
“Hopefully, we can start at a young age and get the message across,” Holt said.
Bailey sees each person as an individual.
“Maybe they’re using it for the wrong reason and they’re going to get clean,” he said. “I hold out hope for every person I see. I struggle with it.”
The meth crises affects many people in Greene County, Bailey said after Milligan’s presentation.
“It’s everywhere in the community, unfortunately, and it’s absolutely so destructive. We just have to educate and treat and have hope,” he said.
With Martin Luther King Day just ahead, the timing seems good to write about a particular African-American man, and one of his sons, both of them influential musicians more of their fellow Tennesseans should know.
The older, more famous one was called the Harmonica Wizard, and he’s been in the Country Music Hall of Fame since 2005. His name was DeFord Bailey. Without him, the harmonica might have had far less a presence in country music than it has through the years.
Born at the very end of the 19th century, DeFord Bailey lived until 1982. I never saw him during his lifetime, but have heard old recordings of his harmonica playing and seen him on YouTube. My dad told me about DeFord Bailey when I was growing up. My father’s eclectic musical tastes ranged from early country music through Debussy.
DeFord had a namesake son, DeFord Bailey Jr., whom I did see perform on television many years ago, though at the time I didn’t realize his identity.
When I was a Middle Tennessee kid in the 1960s, the television stations we saw came out of Nashville. One station aired a syndicated late-night music-and-dance program called “Night Train,” featuring what at the time was usually called soul music and rhythm & blues, performed by live musicians.
The program originated out of Nashville’s WLAC studios. These days the show is cited as helping lay groundwork for the bigger and better-known “Soul Train,” which came along a few years later.
What lingers in my memory about “Night Train” is its introductory image of a train rolling along a track by night, and also the sharply choreographed moves of many of the vocal groups performing on the show – synchronized spins and dips and finger-snaps of the sort made famous by Gladys Knight’s Pips, the Temptations, the Four Tops and many other soul, Motown and R&B vocal groups over the years.
(A sidenote: One of the backing musicians on “Night Train,” a guitarist, was a young, left-handed, recently discharged soldier who had come to Nashville from the Fort Campbell military base. More about him is at the end of this column. But first, back to the two DeFords.)
DeFord Jr., sometimes called just Junior, never was as widely known as DeFord Sr., but he did impact the music world. Junior became a popular R&B performer in Nashville’s Printer’s Alley, an area originally home to printers and publishers, but eventually a haven for bars, nightclubs and exotic dancers. Nashville’s version of Bourbon Street, more or less.
Junior usually performed at a club called the Jolly Roger, and gained a following that included fellow R&B, soul and blues musicians. A 2013 obituary described him as “a true legend in rhythm and blues,” who “inspired musicians throughout the music industry.”
As a musically inspirational figure, the younger DeFord was following a path already traveled by his father.
DeFord Bailey Sr. was born Dec. 14, 1899, in Smith County, home of two of Tennessee’s most memorably named communities: Defeated and Difficult. Carthage is the county seat.
DeFord came from a community called Bellwood. He was the grandson of Lewis Bailey, a man born in slavery but freed in 1863. Lewis Bailey celebrated his freedom with an in-your-face move: he joined the Union army to fight against the forces that characterized him and his people as property to be owned, like a mule or a plow.
Lewis’ grandson DeFord might have remained an unknown figure if not for polio that afflicted him at age 3 and left him confined to bed for a year. Unable to do much else, DeFord taught himself to play harmonica, or “mouth harp,” and progressively mastered the little reed instrument.
The harmonica playing continued long after DeFord’s polio, and his boyhood, were past.
As a grown man, DeFord was not physically imposing. Polio had left him stunted and slightly hunched over, and he walked with a limp. He was 4-foot-10 and weighed 96 pounds.
While working as a young Nashville elevator operator, he entertained lift riders with harmonica music. After a man with the right connections heard his playing, DeFord found work in radio with the WSM Barn Dance.
The Barn Dance, which originated in 1925, went through an abrupt name change one November evening a couple of years later when emcee George D. Hay, called “The Solemn Old Judge,” spontaneously renamed it, live on the air, as the Grand Ole Opry, immediately after DeFord finished playing a tune.
Thus the first performer to play the Opry the night it was christened as such was an African-American man. That’s a good piece of Tennessee trivia most people probably don’t know.
Country music historian Robert Oermann wrote of the Harmonica Wizard after his passing in July 1982: “DeFord Bailey was one of the Opry’s most popular early performers. … By 1927, he and banjo-playing vaudevillian Uncle Dave Macon were the show’s most popular entertainers.”
His speciality was imitating sounds such as speeding trains and baying hounds on his mouth harp.
He was the Opry’s only black entertainer for years, and did most of his shows before white-only audiences. That white fans loved him didn’t free him from the strictures of segregation prevailing during his era, or protect him from demeaning things such as sometimes being described as the Opry’s “mascot.”
When he toured with major Nashville stars, DeFord helped draw big crowds, yet had trouble finding lodging and places to eat because of his race. He ate in restaurant kitchens, or outside, while his white costars ate in nice dining rooms.
There are stories of him obtaining hotel lodging only by posing as valet for Uncle Dave Macon, who was white.
DeFord Bailey also holds the historic distinction of being one of the first musical artists recorded in Nashville.
Supposedly, many of the fans who knew DeFord only through radio or records did not even realize his race, which his employers did not mention on air because they thought it would hurt his popularity.
Not forceful in personality, DeFord usually sat inconspicuously through Opry shows in a chair beside the stage until his performance time. He would rise, go to the microphone and play his tunes, then quietly leave the Ryman Auditorium and go home.
He usually rode a bicycle to and from the Opry, where he remained a popular performer until he was fired in 1941. That firing happened, apparently, partly because of legal issues involving music licensing that barred him from playing his most popular tunes for broadcast. DeFord declined to learn new songs and that created a rationale for his dismissal. Many have suspected that racial condescension contributed, too.
DeFord himself told a reporter: “They turned me loose, with a wife and kids, to root hog or die. They didn’t give a hoot which way I went. They got the good out of me and turned me loose. Sometimes I wish I’d never heard of WSM. They made me have some bad thoughts, and I don’t like that.”
He made occasional return Opry visits in later years and celebrated his 75th birthday there, but for the most part, DeFord’s harmonica playing was confined in later years to family or community settings. He operated a Nashville shoeshine business to survive, and rented rooms out in his home.
A grandson, Carlos Bailey (son of DeFord Jr.), recalled to a journalist later that his grandfather “was amazing. When I think back now and remember how he played, he was a superstar. Man, he could really blow that harmonica. He could have gone around the world and become a millionaire.”
DeFord Sr. died in July 1982, and is buried in Nashville’s Greenwood Cemetery. Also buried there is DeFord Jr., who died in 2015. DeFord Jr.’s grave bears the image of a guitar, his favored instrument.
DeFord Sr. played banjo and guitar as well, but harmonica was the instrument that became part of his identity.
Some of the older DeFord’s career memorabilia is in the Country Music Hall of Fame. His birthplace in Smith County is designated by a state historical marker, and in 2007, a DeFord Bailey Tribute Garden was dedicated in a community park south of downtown Nashville.
Now, what about that earlier-mentioned left-handed backup musician on “Night Train?”
He was named Johnny Allen Hendrix at birth, but his parents later changed his name to James in honor of a relative. When James grew up and became a professional guitarist, he used a professional name you may have heard: Jimi Hendrix.
You can find old clips from “Night Train” on YouTube, and if you spot a left-handed guitarist among the backup musicians, that’s Jimi, who went on to be heralded as perhaps the greatest rock guitarist of all time. People who knew both him and DeFord Jr. say that the latter’s guitar playing style was one of Jimi’s musical influences.
Jimi Hendrix and DeFord Jr. were friends as well as companion performers. And Jimi knew DeFord Sr. as well.
Sadly, substance abuse contributed to Hendrix joining the so-called “27 Club,” meaning that list of rock musicians who died at age 27.
I find it noteworthy that one thread of Jimi Henrix’s foreshortened life wove itself into the fabric of a Tennessee family who themselves were part of the tapestry of American music – all thanks to a little Smith County boy who refused to let polio prevail over him.
As you go through Martin Luther King Day on Monday, maybe give a salute to the memory of a small-framed, quiet African-American man who rose from a sickly childhood to success during the Jim Crow era despite a thousand obstacles in his way.
And in closing, I have to wonder: if they really do sit on clouds and play harps in heaven, like the old cartoons show, do you think DeFord’s might be the kind with reeds and a metal casing?