VOL. 11 | NO. 8 | Saturday, February 24, 2018
Rye Calls City To Task For Lack Of Progress 50 Years After MLK
By Bill Dries
The keynote speaker at the city’s commemoration Saturday, Feb. 24, of the 1968 sanitation workers strike took the administration of Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland to task for its treatment of today’s protesters.
“Your campaign is called ‘I Am Memphis.’ But is this the Memphis that Dr. King would have seen in the promised land?” asked Angela Rye, a CNN AND NPR political analyst, attorney and principal of a political advocacy firm in Washington. “Are you proud of this Memphis? This Memphis that sounds entirely too familiar to the Memphis that rejected Dr. King in 1968 – are you proud of this Memphis?”
The city commemoration moved to the Orpheum theater because of rain in the second change in plans for what had originally been billed as a “reverse march” from City Hall to Clayborn Temple. The march was meant to take the reverse route that striking sanitation workers took on a daily basis in 1968 from the church that was the central organizing point of the strike to City Hall.
The city dropped the name for the march several weeks ago but kept plans for the march until the forecast of rain for Saturday.
“We don’t control everything,” Strickland quipped as he spoke Saturday at the event.
But Rye had another interpretation as she spoke later.
“You wanted to have a reverse march today but you couldn’t – and you couldn’t because we can’t just stand here and honor progress that doesn’t exist,” she said. “The black child poverty rate is the highest in the nation. … The city of Memphis spends more on policing than on education.”
She also recognized activists Tami Sawyer, Keedran Franklin, Earle Fisher and Andre Johnson in the audience – all involved in recent protests including the effort to remove Confederate monuments in two city parks that often clashed politically with Strickland’s strategy of seeking state permission for the removal of the monuments.
Rye criticized Memphis Police for surveillance of protesters as well as a short-lived list that included protest leaders and required that police accompany them at all times when they came to City Hall. Strickland said he had no knowledge of the City Hall list and the names were removed later.
“I think it’s really important for us to understand that 50 years later, we still haven’t seen the progress that we deserve,” Rye said.
Rye also announced that she was donating $5,000 of her speaking fee to C-3 Land Cooperative and another $5,000 to the local Black Lives Matter organization.
“My presence here means that you are not afraid of progress,” Rye told the audience of several hundred at the Orpheum. “Either that or you didn’t do your research.”
Strickland, in his remarks before Rye spoke, focused on the surviving sanitation workers from 1968 who were in the front rows at the Orpheum.
“You changed the world,” he said of their “stand for basic human dignity.”
“There is more work to do, obviously there just is,” he said.
“My predecessor wouldn’t even speak to you,” Strickland said of Henry Loeb, the city’s mayor in 1968. “Your lives matter. Your work matters. You are indeed men.”
City council chairman Berlin Boyd said the strike’s “I Am A Man” signs, which underlined the word am, were a “battle call.”
“I stand on your shoulders,” he added.