Tuesday, October 12, 2010

What Civil Rights Movement?

A few weeks ago, I sat in on a viewing of the documentary, "At the River I Stand." The film documents the Sanitation Workers Strike of 1968 here in Memphis, TN. It follows the story all the way from the initial failed strike by only a few men, to the hearings, all the way through the aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Lorraine Motel. It outlined the significant tension between several groups living in Memphis at the time of the strike: the workers and the local government, the whites and the African-Americans, and the nonviolent marchers and the Black Power protestors to name a few of the dominant feuds.

One of things heavily highlighted by the documentary was Dr. King’s contribution to the protests in the city during the strike, particularly his willingness to return to Memphis after the first failed nonviolence protest, and of course his death.

A week after the film viewing, the group reconvened to discuss our thoughts. I was taken by surprise by some of the comments my peers brought to the table. Though all of the students, including those who were international students, had studied Martin Luther King Jr. and the nonviolence movement, only a few new that the Memphis Sanitation Workers strike had played such a large role in his death. Most of the students had never realized that Dr. King was shot in the city of Memphis.

The irony in the situation is that the education that fails to teach these monumental events in the history of the United States, still to this day, reflects the segregationist system that the Civil Rights Movement attempted to abolish. The lack of integration in the schools of Memphis is a perfect example of this “legal” segregation.

As I was searching for a service site at the beginning of the semester, I considered the various schools in the vicinity of Rhodes before finally settling on a public elementary school. Each week, I see the students struggle because of inadequate supplies, outdated textbooks, unmotivated or overwhelmed teachers and staff, and a nonexistent support system.

Just down the street, my younger cousin attends a local, predominately white, private school. His school is able to hire competent teaching staff, and his classroom is equipped with the latest technology, and newest textbooks.

What does this mean in our society? What is our educational system teaching, or failing to teach the young people of this nation? How are we still failing to integrate our schools now, over fifty years after Brown v. Board?


  1. While I realized that many schools still seem segregated in Memphis, I think a large part of the problem here is the poverty in Memphis. We have very poor people living near very rich people. Obviously the rich ones have the money to send their children to schools that can afford the best. However, you would be surprised how much of Memphis is too poor to pay for this (you buy textbooks you know it's expensive!). Perhaps the question is not so much the education, but rather the job market that keeps many African-Americans in what I have called the poorer group.

  2. Although I agree with drocm about the fact that Memphis is still a very poor city, I think this particular situation touches on what we discussed in class regarding how during integration the school districts were set according to the neighborhoods. By doing this the black students were obviously segregated from the white students based on the fact that the neighborhoods were segregated. Although it has been close to 50 years since that ruling, most of the neighborhoods have still not been integrated, leaving the black neighborhoods still with sub-par educational institutes.