Tennessee’s first Republican attorney general in 144 years was sworn into office Wednesday as some have raised questions about his membership in what has historically been an all white country club.
The oath of office for Herbert Slatery III was administered by Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Sharon Lee and Governor Bill Haslam, who has been a long time friend of the new attorney general.
Slatery was appointed unanimously to the position last month by the five members of State Supreme Court after serving as the Governor’s chief legal counsel.
Questions about Slatery’s membership in Knoxville’s Cherokee Country Club were first raised in anonymous emails sent to reporters after the justices started interviewing the eight candidates who had applied to become attorney general.
In the past several days, there had been stories raising the membership question publicly.
After being sworn-in at the State Capitol, Slatery was asked if he would continue as a Cherokee member.
He replied by saying, “Yeah, I think so.”
Slatery was asked if he thought it was an issue to belong to a club that once had no black members and apparently continues to be predominantly white.
“I don’t think its an issue to be honest with you. I think it was an issue maybe 20 years ago or so. I have never been in leadership, so I don’t know club policy, but I know a lot of the people there and there is no discrimination among the people that I know about. I know they have had black members.”
This is not the first time the Cherokee Country Club has been thrust into a statewide controversy about its membership.
Twenty five years ago, Wade Houston became the first African-American head coach in the Southeastern Conference by accepting the top job at the University of Tennessee’s basketball program.
Previous head basketball coaches at UT had been members at Cherokee, but Houston never applied for membership after reports surfaced that the club had never admitted a black member.
At the time, UT’s head football Johnny Majors and athletic director Doug Dickey quit the club in protest.
Earlier, Slatery was praised by series of colleagues who spoke prior to the swearing in ceremony.
“He’s a friend that has amazing rectitude,” said David A. Bowen of the Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis. “He has great passion, so whatever he does he does whole heartedly.”
Like Bowen, Governor Haslam has been a close friend of Slatery.
He noted the overflow crowd of the state’s top lawyers, judicial members and staffers who worked under Slatery in the governor’s office.
“They are here because they have an incredible appreciation for what Herbert has meant in the four years he has served,” said the governor as he paused for a second with a lump in his throat.
During his speech after the swearing-in ceremony, Slatery said he “appreciates the gravity of the office and the responsibilities I have to those working in it and the citizens of Tennessee.”
Sept. 15, 2014: Tenn. justices name Herbert Slatery as attorney general