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August 8, 2012

Mr. Silk goes to Frankfort?

Vocal slave reparations supporter and west Louisville liquor store owner Norris Shelton to run for state Senate

If Norris Shelton gets his way, slavery will be a hot topic in Frankfort next year. Of course, he’d also be pleased if the campaign simply generated some good publicity.

Shelton, founder of the nonprofit American Slaves Inc. (ASI) — and owner of Mr. Silk’s Liquors — recently announced plans to run as an independent for the 33rd District state Senate seat held by Democrat Gerald Neal since 1989. Shelton’s campaign officially kicks off Saturday during a rally in the First Church of American Slaves, an ASI-funded chapel in the Russell neighborhood. The event is also a celebration of the 11th anniversary of ASI, which believes most problems in the black community — if not the whole country — are a direct result of slavery.

At the very least, Shelton hopes the Senate campaign brings renewed attention to ASI and puts him in a position to realize some of the group’s goals. Chief among them: getting “Descendants of American Slaves” recognized as a distinct minority group. ASI eschews the term African-American because it does not clearly describe the relationship between America and the children of its former bondsmen. Shelton says getting black people to accept their identity as descendants of American slaves and forcing the nation to deal with the legacy of slavery are the ultimate aims of ASI and his campaign.

“I want somehow for our people to start getting the truth, the real truth, even if it hurts,” Shelton says. “I’m not a politician. All I can do is tell the truth.”

Given Shelton cites goals like economic development, street cleaning, youth mentoring, and crime reduction, it might seem like Metro Council would be a better fit. But Shelton is adamant the state Senate — and perhaps more specifically, Gerald Neal — is a better target.

As LEO reported last November, there has been some animosity between the two men. In a profile about American Slaves Inc., Shelton said, “(State Sen.) Gerald Neal, me and him are having a terrible battle. It got kind of ugly. He threw me out of his office.”

In an interview at the time, Neal acknowledged asking Shelton to leave his office. Neal was out of town last week and could not comment for this story, but he did tell WFPL political reporter Phillip M. Bailey, “I think he (Shelton) ought to put his issues on the table. It doesn’t matter to me if it gets negative. I have been out here awhile and I can take it. The question is whether or not he’s done anything that he can demonstrate is meaningful or achievable that is important to constituents.”

However, Shelton expects Neal to go negative first, possibly playing up the fact that he owns a liquor store. Mr. Silk’s Liquors is the main source of funding for American Slaves Inc. Even as he defends the arrangement, Shelton is working to change it. He says ASI is seeking a $1.2 million business loan to build a new headquarters (the current one is above Mr. Silk’s) and a halfway house to help newly released prisoners.

“The liquor store pays all the bills and has been carrying the movement so far,” Shelton admits. “We’ve been working around the clock trying to borrow some money. We’re not interested in anybody giving us a grant or giving us some money, we want to do business. To do business, you come up with a good plan and you borrow enough money to implement your plan. Then you pay back the money in an orderly fashion. We’ve had enough of that begging stuff.”

Shelton says the answers to the problems that ail Louisville’s black community are simple, but current leaders would rather let them fester than work with ASI. Any time he tries to get the city to adopt one of his ideas, Shelton claims, he is routed to the same black leaders who ignore him.

“I’m not a radical, I try to be a clear-thinking person,” Shelton says. “I try to be a business person, but there is a clique in this town that is pretty tight … There is something about the leadership in Louisville, the black leadership — it seems like they are frightened to stand up for what is right.”

Though he will continue to speak for the descendants of American slaves if elected, Shelton says he would be a representative for all groups. “I want everyone to understand that the Descendants of American Slaves political party is not a biased or narrow-minded organization,” he says. “My platform is to strengthen the American chain from end to end, starting with the 33rd District.”.