Dr. Carnita Atwater, self-styled community leader of the New Chicago Community Development Corporation, hopes to be the next governor of Tennessee.
“The Big Political Reveal” was staged on April 3 on the eve of Dr. King’s death commemoration.
Despite past clashes with the city of Memphis administration and some legal issues, Atwater remains a revered figure in North Memphis’ New Chicago community.
Long-time residents and loyal supporters of Atwater gathered at her business, the Kukutana African-American History and Culture Museum of Memphis in the heart of New Chicago.
“Most people thought I was going to run for mayor,” said Atwater. “But I am smarter than that. I am more strategic than that. My research shows there will be 13 people running for mayor, but I am the first one out of the gate to run for governor.”
Speakers, who endorsed Atwater’s candidacy for governor, drew bursts of applause as they told the crowd, “Let’s make history,” and “It is time for a change.” Atwater was touted for her “proven leadership” and concern for all communities.
“Never before in the history of this state has there been an African-American woman who ran for governor,” Atwater told her audience. “I want to be the next governor of Tennessee.”
Further details of Atwater’s upcoming campaign were not available. But her surprise “reveal” generated excitement among the crowd.
Atwater, a native of Clarksdale, Mississippi, opened up about her humble beginnings.
“I grew up using a number three tub,” said Atwater. “Y’all know what a number three washtub is. Everybody in the house took a bath in it. And we didn’t have a bathroom in the house. We used a slop jar and had to empty it in the outhouse.”
Atwater said she has had her own business since the age of 12.
“When I was 12, I didn’t ask my father for a doll or an Easy-Bake Oven,” said Atwater. “No, I asked for a John Deer lawnmower. That was my first business.”
Atwater has been New Chicago’s most vocal advocate of community investment into the blight-riddled area. The Firestone tire factory was located there until it closed in 1983.
Businesses, which thrived from the thousands of employees at the factory, died along with the plant.
Atwater said New Chicago is a “forgotten part of the city.”
When the city planners announced meetings all over Memphis for input into “Memphis 3.0,” a blueprint for the city’s growth over the next three decades, Atwater came up with her own vision for revitalizing New Chicago.
She proposed that the city sell her 22 acres in New Chicago and provide her the funding of her plan. Although she attended all of the Memphis 3.0 meetings, the Atwater proposal was not included.
Although some aspects of her plan were considered ill-advised and impractical, Atwater championed a bold and audacious community reinvestment that included a five-star resort, an African village with mud huts, llama and alpaca rides, and New Chicago Adventure Park, complete with thrill rides and live shows.
This new bid for governor comes at a time when Atwater is suing the city on behalf of the New Chicago CDC for $10 billion because “the Memphis 3.0 plan was created for and to the benefit of a handful of wealthy Memphians seated on city boards,” according to Atwater.
The lawsuit was later amended to a class action for $20 billion.
Revelations about Atwater’s background in 2019 had some city officials acknowledging the validity of New Chicago’s blight and poverty, but questioning if Atwater should be the voice of those concerns.
It was first discovered that although Atwater’s family home was in New Chicago, she actually lives in a $400,000 house in Germantown.
Also, a judgment for $2 million was awarded to the family of a woman Atwater worked for as a caregiver. Checks from the client’s account were written out to Atwater when she was entrusted with the woman’s personal affairs.
Also, members of the Memphis City Council essentially dismissed Atwater’s opposition against Memphis 3.0 as stemming from resentment that the plan she had devised for New Chicago had not been included. The city’s plan was approved shortly after.