Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop
Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, Written by Alice Faye Duncan
In February 1968, two African American sanitation workers were killed by unsafe equipment in Memphis, Tennessee. Outraged at the city’s refusal to recognize a labor union that would fight for higher pay and safer working conditions, sanitation workers went on strike. The strike lasted two months, during which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was called to help with the protests. While his presence was greatly inspiring to the community, this, unfortunately, would be his last stand for justice. He was assassinated in his Memphis hotel the day after delivering his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” sermon in Mason Temple Church.
Primary Source Pairing:
“So much was won. So much was lost. Freedom is never free.” (page 30) The 1968 Sanitation Strike in Memphis, Tennessee was 65 days long and over 1,300 men went on strike for better pay and safer working conditions. The lack of garbage pick up made Memphis a messy place by the end of February. The mayor would not negotiate. The men believed in their worth. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr visited and motivated the men to continue their fight for worker rights. It was on Dr. King’s return trip to Memphis that he was assassinated. A significant amount of history is embedded in this story as told by a woman who marched as a child with her mother and father, a sanitation worker. For this primary source pairing, invite students to review a flyer that was distributed to the sanitation workers detailing the strike. Encourage students to make connections to the narrative from the young girl’s point of view and what is explained in the strike flyer.
Questions for Discussion:
- Describe what you see.
- What do you notice first?
- How much of the text can you read? What does it say?
- What do you see that looks strange or unfamiliar?
- How are the words arranged?
- What do you notice about the page the writing appears on?
- What do you see on the page besides writing?
- What other details can you see?
- What tools and materials were used to create it?
- What can you learn from examining this?
Book Cover and Summary: Follett
“Flyer distributed to the sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee, asking them to “March for Justice and Jobs” (1968)” Wikipedia