VOL. 133 | NO. 64 | Thursday, March 29, 2018
Strickland Talks of Work To Be Done 50 Years After Strike
By Bill Dries
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland says the hardest part of growing black-owned business, and thereby black wealth in the city, is increasing the number of minority-owned firms in certain sectors.
“That’s the biggest challenge. We have to grow the number and diversity of the firms,” Strickland said. “I’m not sure any city has done that real well.”
Strickland keeps a running list of sectors that have no minority-owned businesses with whom city government can contract.
“I’m many pages into that list and it’s not even a year old,” he said. “In construction we do OK, in landscaping. … But a smaller example is speed humps. We do a lot of speed humps. We contract out for that. There’s not an African-American business that does that.”
Strickland commented in an interview with The Daily News about the city’s observance of the 50th anniversary of the 1968 sanitation workers’ strike and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The events are expected to draw large crowds next week as the anniversary of King’s assassination is observed.
Strickland acknowledged some criticism of his administration as part of the anniversary but said he is proud of what his administration has accomplished in two years in office, including increasing city contracting with minority-owned businesses from 12 percent to 21 percent. He also cited a retirement supplement for sanitation workers that brings their total retirement plan in line with the plans workers in other divisions of city government have had.
But he also said the anniversary is a reminder there is more to accomplish.
“In the short term, I hope everyone has a safe good week,” he said. “In the long term, I hope we’re inspired by Dr. King’s vision and the example of those 1968 workers to make Memphis an even better place.”
The city’s formal observances of the strike and assassination anniversaries are an attempt to show ongoing progress. But asked if the city will ever get past the stigma of King’s assassination, Strickland said, “My first reaction is I hope not. I think being challenged is a good thing – challenged to do better. If there are lessons to learn from 1968 – which I think there are – those are timeless. … We’re not there yet.”
Two members of King’s inner circle who were in the city at the time of the assassination, Andrew Young and Rev. Jesse Jackson, praised Strickland’s efforts.
“There’s a new spirit here,” said Young, who is a former mayor of Atlanta, U.S. representative and United Nations ambassador. “You kind of feel good. You feel there is real hope and opportunity.”
Memphis’ City Hall building – particularly the council chambers – still looks a lot like it did in 1968 when some of the drama of the strike played out there, though the mayor’s office moved from the second floor to the seventh in the 1990s.
On April 7, a group of ministers will march from St. Mary’s Episcopal Church to City Hall to meet with Strickland. They will be commemorating a similar march that religious leaders made the day after King’s assassination to plead with then-Mayor Henry Loeb to end the strike.
“We have to have this constant reminder that there is more progress to be made,” Strickland said of King’s assassination and its commemoration. “Unfortunately, I think it was that action that in fact did lead to a compromise and settle the strike. But why did it have to? Why did it take the assassination of Dr. King to get City Hall to compromise?”