The Metropolitan Government of Nashville/Davidson County created the Metropolitan Human Relations Commission in 1965 during a period of heightened racial tensions in the community and the nation. Composed of fifteen persons representative of the various social, economic, religious, cultural, ethnic, and racial groups that comprised the area population, it was the first official human rights agency in Tennessee. The agency assumed broad responsibilities to promote and encourage fair treatment and equal opportunity for all persons; to promote mutual understanding and respect among the members of all racial, religious, and ethnic groups; and to endeavor to eliminate discrimination against and antagonism between religious, racial, and ethnic groups and their members.
The commission attempted to carry out these functions during its first year, 1965-66, through the efforts of its volunteer commissioners, but the group soon concluded that it needed a staff. Consequently, it chose as its first staff members an African American executive director, Warren N. Moore (1967-70), and a Caucasian associate director, Fred Cloud. This black/white teamwork was continued as a matter of policy for the next two decades.
The enactment of a Fair Employment law for Nashville/Davidson County became the first priority of the newly staffed commission. After seven months of community organization and persuasion, Metro Council passed the Fair Employment Act, and it was signed into law in July 1968–the first such law in Tennessee. A considerable number of “firsts” in human rights followed this initial success: Human Relations Training for all Metro Police officers (1968); Mass Media and Race Relations Seminar (1969), which led to the hiring of several African American reporters by Nashville newspapers; Affirmative Action plan for Metro government (1974); initiation of the Clinical Legal Education Project at Vanderbilt University Law School (1974); formation of the Mayor’s Committee on Refugee and Immigration Affairs (1980); planning for International Festivals for Nashville (1983-87); assistance in the founding of Nashville Habitat for Humanity (1985); coordination of Holocaust Remembrance (1986-87); and planning for Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration (1986-90). In 1978 the commission hosted the annual conference of the National Association of Human Rights Workers when it met in Nashville.
In 1970 Cloud assumed the post of executive director and remained in that position until 1990. In 1995 after a five-year hiatus in the life of the commission caused by a discontinuation of operating funds, the budget was reinstated under Mayor Philip Bredesen. Anthea Boarman became the new executive director. Throughout its existence, the staff of the Metropolitan Human Rights Commission has assumed leadership roles in both state and national human rights organizations.