6 Times Women + People of Color Made History In Nashville’s May 1st Election


photo by John Mathis

For the average voter, November is the typical time to dust off the cloak of civic duty and head to the polls. However, Nashville’s May 1st election drew record turnout earlier this month. The highly-anticipated transit referendum was on the ballot, and the decision to fund a nearly $9 billion mass transit plan was in the hands of the voters. This election also set the stage for many history making “firsts” in Nashville for women and people of color. Here’s a rundown of all “the firsts” you need to know as you prepare for another landmark election this Thursday, May 24th.

  1. Ana Escobar, General Sessions Court Judge Division 3 – First Latina. Listen, Ana came through with a big time win. She challenged the incumbent Nick Leonardo, Sheryl Guinn, and Newton Holliday, III for the General Sessions Court Judge Division 3 seat. With more than 45 percent of the votes cast in her favor, she pulled off the upset to become Nashville’s first-ever Latina judge. And to think, she wasn’t even going to run for the seat after being voted down by Metro Council earlier this year. 
  1. Karen Johnson, Register of Deeds – First African American Woman. As a current Metro Council woman and former school board member, Karen Y. Johnson is no stranger to politics and servant leadership. Her years of experience grinding on the campaign trail may have been the key to winning her contested race against Richard Exton. Or maybe it was her mention that the Register of Deed’s office is the oldest elected office in Nashville that recorded slaves as property in the 1800s? Whatever her secret sauce was, it worked and now she is the first African American woman in Nashville to hold this office.
  1. Martesha Johnson, Public Defender – First + Youngest African-American Woman. No relation to Karen Johnson, Martesha arrived on the political scene in 2017 when she sought a Metro Council appointment for a vacant General Sessions Court Judge seat. The Emerge Tennessee graduate and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority member (heyyyyy, soror!) ran unopposed and garnered significant support from all corners of Nashville, including from outgoing Public Defender Dawn Deaner. When sworn into office, Martesha Johnson will be the first and youngest African-American woman Public Defender. Black girl magic strikes again!
  1. Brenda Wynn, County Clerk – First African American Woman. Also running unopposed for a re-election bid for Davidson County Clerk was Brenda Wynn. She has held this office since being appointed by Metro Council in 2012. With her win, she continues her reign as the first African-American woman to be elected to a constitutional office in Davidson County.
  1. Angie Blackshear Dalton, Criminal Court Judge – First African American Woman. In what was widely considered the most closely watched—and heated—race of this election, Judge Angelita Blackshear Dalton came out victorious as the Criminal Court Judge, defeating no-holds-barred defense attorney Joy Kimbrough. Judge Dalton is the first African-American woman to be elected to the Criminal Court bench.
  1. Sam Coleman – First To Win General Sessions Court Office After Metro Council Appointment, Since 2012. No one thought he could defy local history. The last three judges appointed by Metro Council have gone on to lose their first elections. But I think I overheard Sam say, “y’all got me messed up.” The former District 33 Metro Councilman not only won his bid to keep his General Sessions Court judgeship, but he beat out three other formidable candidates in the process, earning 32 percent of the vote.


Don’t relax just yet. This is just the beginning. Nashville will have an unprecedented FIVE elections this year! We are currently in the throes of a special election for Nashville Mayor and Metro Council District 1. Election Day is Thursday, May 24, but there is sure to be a runoff in June (election #3). We’ll come back on August 2nd to vote again in the state/federal primaries for school board, state representative and state Senate, Governor, and U.S. Senate. Finally, we’ll conclude on November 6 for the general election for these same seats.

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6 Times Women + People of Color Made History In Nashville’s May 1st Election

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