VOL. 133 | NO. 69 | Thursday, April 5, 2018
Last Word: MLK50s Big Day, Hotel Changes and Murica on Capitol Hill
By Bill Dries
The peak of the MLK50 events came Wednesday with a chill but some sunshine and lots to consider. Understand -- this isn’t over. There are still a few more events to go through the weekend and even into next week. If nothing else, a lot more Memphians and visitors got a good look at most of South Main in the best way possible – on foot. And if the Beale Street District ever expands east to Danny Thomas, the intersection there makes a really good place for a party.
So little time, so many causes – grudges – hopes – pleas – hashtags – delivered at break neck speed until there was no time left to do anything but toll the bells at 6:01.
Thousands marched Wednesday from AFSCME headquarters at Beale and Danny Thomas to Mason Temple.
April 4 in Memphis has always been about live and let live when it comes to views and causes expressed about Martin Luther King Jr. and the movement. It has even allowed over the years for the occasional hijacking of the balcony as well as King’s legacy.
None of that Wednesday. It was mostly live and let live – at times like a buffet of ideas and movements.
Rev. Jesse Jackson speaks on the balcony of the National Civil Rights Museum in a scene broadcast to remote screens on South Main Street.
Democratic presidential contender and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders got the biggest ovation at the AFSCME rally late Wednesday morning. Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez did a bit of surgery on the 2016 Hillary Clinton axiom of “When they go low, we go high.” Post Clinton, Perez changed that to “Some people go low and we go vote.”
At the National Civil Rights Museum commemoration, Southern Christian Leadership Conference national leader Charles Steele came to complain about other organizations trying to usurp the place the organization led by King should have.
Of course, reporters are usually the only folks in the crowd who try to take in as many of the speeches as possible. So most of the people at the observance only hear a few speeches if that many.
And then there are the people in the crowd who never get anywhere near the stage or the spotlight. They are what some of us might mistakenly call “ordinary” people or the “common” man or woman. People in my line of work will interview them after all of the speeches are done or before they start.
That turns into archival material 50 years later that documentary makers pour over. In the case of “American Experience” the PBS series – some filmmakers focused on a short piece of footage from one of the marches here in the days following King’s assassination and sought to find out who the person was. Here’s the trailer for “This Is My Brother.”
Local officialdom at the NCRM had some competition in the crowd. A group of activists, including some who were among nine people arrested this week by police during "Rolling Block Party" protests including protests over the detention of immigrants, booed Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam as they spoke – chanting “No Change” during Strickland’s speech. In the middle of Strickland, Luttrell and Haslam was U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen and the chanting and booing stopped during his remarks – resuming just as soon as Haslam closed out the foursome.
Time is kept at these kinds of events. At the AFSCME rally outside AFSCME headquarters at Danny Thomas and Beale Wednesday morning Rev. William Barber of the new Poor People’s Campaign, was on the clock and just like at the Academy Awards some filler music began to be played as his remarks ran long. “Y’all had your turn. Give me mine,” he quipped and the music left and Barber continued.
Barber was among those who spoke at that event and at the National Civil Rights Museum. At the museum, he had a different speech that wasn’t under the same time pressures.
The speeches at that gathering and at the NCRM were mixed with music – live and recorded. And Sheila E. brought the funk at the AFSCME gathering – star spangled funk at that including a cover of the Prince tune “America” from “Around the World in a Day” – the mid 80s followup to Purple Rain. At NCRM it was Al Green closing things out as only Al Green can … and with Kirk Whalum.
More perspectives on MLK50: Alan Binder and Jerry Gray on Memphis in The New York Times. And Lela McCollough Seletzky in The Washington Post on leaving Memphis.
“I Am A Man” Plaza, which some of you have been walking around for a few days, has its official opening Thursday morning. Earlier this week, the formal reopening of the Universal Life Insurance building which was a Strickland administration goal for April 4, right up there with having the Forrest statue down by April 4.
A new Nathan Bedford Forrest marker was unveiled Wedneday at B.B. King and Adams next to Calvary Episcopal Church.
On the subject of Nathan Bedford Forrest, Calvary Episcopal Church and Rhodes College and the National Park Service unveiled a new Forrest plaque at B.B. King and Adams Wednesday that deals specifically with Forrest’s trade in slaves. At a service at Calvary, prior to the plaque’s unveiling, the names of 72 slaves sold at the Forrest slave market were read aloud and the church bell chimed for each name – most first names with an age that Rhodes College student found in the county archives through bills of sale and other public records. More on this when next we meet.
The California developer who had plans for a South Main hotel and a tax break for it is out of the project which continues with a different team and excising any mention of John Wessman from the official records as the cofounder of the organization takes over. Two days after Wessman Development got a 15 year PILOT, prosecutors in Riverside County California charged John Wessman in a public corruption case along with a former mayor of Palm Springs, California.
Also on the hotel front, the owners of the skeleton hotel on the northwest corner of B.B. King and Union, across from the Peabody and AutoZone Park, are seeking a special use permit to use the shell of the building and bring it back from that. Three of the exterior walls were taken down two years ago and counting.
Noon Thursday is the filing deadline for the Aug. 2 state and federal primaries and nonpartisan county elections. As usual check in @tdnpols Thursday afternoon for the rundown. Not expecting any surprises but they wouldn’t be surprises if they were expected would they?
As expected, Alex Lomax of East High commits to the Tigers and rumors of Hardaway staff hires.
In his “View From The Hill” column, our Nashville correspondent, Sam Stockard, finds the downsizing of the UT board of Trustees is still a hot topic among legislators and two Memphis Democrats in the House were the key to what was a narrow victory for a Haslam administration bill.
Stockard also has more on the death of the medical marijuana bill … for this legislative session. The House sponsor and the Senate sponsor appear to be at odds, with the House sponsor using the term “Murica” in a Tweet.
More on the Shelby County commission’s moratorium on contracts and budget amendments over $50,000 through the end of their current term of office. County Mayor Mark Luttrell says he is considering a veto among other things.
The AngelStreet performing arts center is about to add a second location in The Heights.
A North Memphis performing arts center for girls is preparing to open a new center in The Heights in a reinvention of the conceptions about what a community center means. You probably just thought a gymnasium. The founder of AngelStreet begs to differ.
The B concourse of MEM is now closed – that should be said internally as one of those recorded announcements at an airport.