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The Civil Rights History Project: Survey of Collections and Repositories

The Memphis multi-media archival project: the 1968 sanitation workers' strike

Repository: University of Memphis. Special Collections/Mississippi Valley Collection

Collection Description (CRHP): This project began in 1971 and ended in 1974. This collection includes extensive information documenting the methodology for the oral histories conducted for this project. It also includes works of art donated by two widely-known Memphis artists who created this work as a personal response to King's death. One of the artists, Dolph Smith, agreed to be interviewed for the project.

The oral histories were used as the basis for the book, "At the River I Stand," written by Joan Beifuss, who was involved in this sanitation strike project.

Collection Description (Extant): The original grant application for this archival project, dated January 26, 1971, was made by The Memphis Search for Meaning Committee, a bi-racial, volunteer, non-profit, community research and study group which had spontaneously banded together immediately after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Conscious that, as Memphis citizens, we had been both witnesses to and participants in history, we had, for almost three years, been collecting material and information in an effort to achieve and communicate a fuller understanding of what had happened in our city and why it had happened. Specifically, The Memphis Search for Meaning committee was concerned with study of the period from February 12 through April 16, 1968, encompassing the sanitation workers' strike with its escalating community tensions and racial polarizations, and culminating in the killing of Dr. King who had come to Memphis to lend support to the strikers. 'Our objective,' the Committee's Statement of Intent of May 10, 1968 had declared, 'is to look from our special on-the-scene vantage point at both the causes and effects of the events of those fifty-three days, and our purpose is to understand them and, if possible, put them into perspective.'

It should be understood at the outset that the main focus of our attention, first, last, and always has been our city and how it was affected by the strike of its garbage collectors who marched down Memphis streets daily for many weeks wearing signs that proclaimed, 'I Am A Man.' This, in itself, we believe is a human drama of enduring and perhaps universal significance. Only peripherally did our research touch upon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s activities or, for that matter, on any questions concerning the guilt or innocence of his subsequently convicted assassin, James Earl Ray, or the possibility that the murder was connected with any kind of conspiracy. But we have always been aware that our quest might inadvertently reveal both direct and indirect information of specific historical value about the circumstances surrounding and perhaps leading to the death of one of the leading world figures of the Twentieth Century. And we have tried throughout to weigh our responsibilities and our priorities accordingly.

[Description taken from the Preface of the finding aid.]

Access Copy Note: The 185-page finding aid for this collection not only describes this project in depth but also includes a 98-page catalog of holdings.

Digital Status: No

Extent: 52 containers (4,000 items in the Documents & Artifacts category; 364 audiotapes (reel-to-reel format) with an estimated listening time of 300 hours; 8,000 verified pages of audiotaped interview transcripts; 450 magazine articles; 347 anecdotes; 125 reels of film or 60,000 feet with an estimated viewing time of 30 hours; hundreds of still photographs and contact prints, many with negatives; and a bulky collection of Memphis newspapers, indexed, analyzed and clipped plus collections of scattered or single issues and clippings from out-of-town newspapers, national or foreign

Language: English

Related Archival Items: See other collections at the University of Memphis on the sanitation workers' strike.

Interviewees: Gwen Awsumb, Joseph Sweat, W. T McAdams, Frank Kallaher, Father James Lyke, Rev. Ezekiel Bell, Walter Bailey, Robert James, John Spence, Frank Miles, Martin Luther King, Jr., Taylor Blair, Jacques Wilmore, Rev. Harold Middlebrook, Rev. Ramsey Pollard, Ben Branch, Jesse Nealy, James Manire, Lewis Donelson, E. C. Stimbert, Luella Cook, Downing Pryor, Fred Williams, Rev. Richard Moon, Edward W. (Moon) Cook, Paul Hess, Dr. Frederick Gioia, Ed Gillis, Billy Hyman, Rev. Gilbert Patterson, Jerred Blanchard, Gladys Carpenter, Lewis Berry, Jr., Linda Allen, Peggy Jemison, Charles Blackburn, J. O. Patterson, Rev. Malcolm Blackburn, Rev. William A. Dimmick, Rev. Darrel Doughty, Gerald Fanion, Dr. Glen Clark, Harry Woodbury, Rev. Benjamin Hooks, James McGinnis, Rev. Frank McRae, T. O. Jones, Dan Kuykendall, Myra Dreifus, Fred Davis, Thomas Todd, Joseph Durick, Ignatius MacDonald Essien, Jesse Turner, Bert Ferguson, William Lucy, Rev. Al Sampson, Bill Ross, Anthony Sabella, Calvin Taylor, Father William Greenspun, Monsignor Joseph Leppert, Arthur Crowns, Jesse Epps, Russell Sugarmon, Gina Sugarmon, Mose Walker, Floyd Newsum, Philip Perel, Rev. Henry Starks, Charles Holmes, Pete Sisson, William B. Ingram, David Caywood, Mr. and Mrs. L. C. Reed, Bobby Doctor, Maxine Smith, Gwen Kyles, Rev. Brooks Ramsey, Wyeth Chandler, Rev. John William Aldridge, John T. Fisher, Margaret Valiant, Peter Cooper, Ed Ray, Sam Weintraub, Rev. James Jordan, Ronald Ivy, James Cherry, Marjorie Cherry, Eddie Jenkins, Rev. Baxter Bryant, Henry Loeb, Whittier Sengstacke, Sr., Mattie Sengstacke, Whitter Sengstacke, Jr., Ethel Sengstacke, Ed Harris, Jerrold Moore, Dolph Smith, Jesse Smith, C. Eric Lincoln, Rev. Ralph Jackson, Rev. James Netters, Rev. James Lawson, Selma Lewis, Rabbi James Wax, Rev. James Bevel, Rev. Samuel (Billy) Kyles, Rev. Baxton Bryant, Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Richard J. Ryan, Ann Geary, Mary Kay Tolleson, Hubert H. Humphrey, Dan Powell, Jerry Wurf, P. J. Ciampa, James Reynolds, Frank Gianotti, Henry Lux, Frank Ahlgren, Paul Barnett, Rev. Richard Wells, Tom Beckner, Joan Beifuss, Leamon Hood, Edward H. Hunvald, David L. Lewis, Roy Wilkins, Frank Holloman, Turner Catledge, Del Shields

Rights (CRHP): Contact the repository which holds the collection for information on rights


African American labor union members
African Americans--Civil rights--Tennessee
Black power
Civil rights demonstrations
Civil rights movements--Press coverage
Civil rights movements--Tennessee
King, Coretta Scott, 1927-2006
King, Martin Luther, Jr., 1929-1968--Assassination
Labor movement--Tennessee
Labor unions--Organizing--Southern States
Memphis (Tenn.)--Politics and government
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
Police brutality
Poor People's Campaign
Race discrimination--Tennessee
Sanitation Workers Strike, Memphis, Tenn., 1968
Television broadcasting of news
White supremacy movements


Sound recordings


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   May 15, 2015
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