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Our Neighbor – Erika Sugarmon

Erika Sugarmon: History Repeats

Erika Sugarmon is the daughter of late judge Russell B. Sugarmon Jr. B. Sugarmon graduated from Booker T Washington at only 15 years old. Erica Sugarmon lives to tell the story of her father and his journey from then onward. 

Russell Sugarmon went on to graduate from high school and then applied to the University of Tennessee (UT) Law. He was then denied access because it was a public school and Black people were not allowed inside public colleges, but they were allowed in private colleges such as Ivy Leagues. Mr Sugarmon was also accepted into Harvard Law at the time. Mr Sugarmon was baffled at why UT couldn’t accept him but Harvard could. He brought the concerns up to UT but UT only offered to pay his way through Harvard Law due to systemic racism. After graduating from Law School, Mr Sugarmon started his own law firm. It would be the first interracial law firm founded in the South.

Sugarmon made his way back to Memphis where he ran for county commissioner. The race ended up being plagued by racism when Lobe, the person in power at the time, encouraged all-white representatives involved in the race to drop out against Russell Sugarmon.  Lobe didn’t want any white person losing to a Black person. Mr Sugarmon was left running against another Black contender. Russell B. Sugarmon lost the race.

As Erica Sugarmon reflects on the long journey her father and sees similarities in her own journey through politics. Ms Sugarmon recently ran for public office position when all but one of the people running against her were encouraged to drop out of the race except for one person. Erica Sugarmon also lost her race. 

With this in mind, Erica Sugarmon doesn’t let incidents like this go by idly. She encourages those around her to do a background check of our city. She encourages Memphians to dive into the history of the city, further than the death of Martin Luther King Jr. She wants us to pay attention to how history is repeating itself in different but similar ways. 

Being a politically inclined individual, Ms Sugarmon is well aware of the systemic issues we have in present-day Memphis. Most notably, the educational system serving Black and Brown neighborhoods. They are severely underfunded. According to Ms Sugarmon, less than 25% of children are reading at grade level, and there is an undeniable inequity in job opportunities for these youth in such communities . All issues historically rooted in systemic racism. 

Ms Sugarmon is an educator serving primarily students of color. She feels it’s her duty to educate her students on what’s happening inside and outside the classroom, including tough conversations about civic responsibility and social justice reform.

“It saddens me that in 2020 we’re still having these same conversations. It saddens me when I hear about our children being killed. It saddens me because it puts fear in mothers like me, who can’t protect their children against a government that has systematically used race as an issue to arrest, to beat, to even kill our children, our men, and our women,” said Erica Sugarmon. 

Sugarmon’s best advice toward being a better neighbor is to truly be concerned for each other’s well-being. She feels that time has stopped in Memphis. She feels we are stuck in the 60s and the only way to move forward is by not being bystanders to the unjust things happening in our city.