by Harlan McCarthy, Special to The New Tri-State Defender
“We are celebrating these women, these wives, these matriarchs, these warriors for survival and making sure everyone around them survived too,” said multi-media journalist Emily Yellin.
The setting was the screening of the documentary “1,300 Men: Memphis Strike ’68” by Striking Voices at the University Center on the campus of the University of Memphis. The women were Jimmie Leach, Helen Turner and Florence Ueal. Each was married to one of the 1,300 men involved in the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike of 1968.
Yellin introduced the trio to the crowd. Her association with them includes interaction during the making of the 10-part documentary, which came out last year and is available for streaming on TheRoot.com. She was the executive producer.
“We are celebrating their beauty, their courage, and the fullness of their humanity,” Yellin said. “We are letting them know that we see them.”
Jimmie Leach was the wife of Baxter Leach, Helen Turner’s husband was Alvin Turner and Florence Ueal was married to Ozell Ueal. Throughout the discussion, the women talked about standing in solidarity with their husbands, despite the uncertainty of when the strike would end.
After the screening, there was a Q&A session.
“I thought it was really important to document the family life and to make sure that we can capture that,” Yellin said. “I was six years old when this happened, and I have memories and I know some of the children those memories shaped you for life.”
Last year marked the 50th year anniversary of the Memphis Sanitation strike, which resulted in 65 days of striking by Memphis sanitation workers and the eventual assassination of civil rights icon the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. At issue was a push for better living wages, safer working conditions and labor union recognition.
The 10-part documentary shows scenarios of what happened before, during and after the strike. Yellin is the daughter of the late journalist and professor David Yellin, who helped found the Film and TV department at the University of Memphis.
Yellin highlighted how she obtained footage for the documentary.
“All of the footage you see from 1968 is the footage my father went to all the TV stations and got them to give the film. So, there is 25 hours of film at the University of Memphis that wouldn’t be there. It would be thrown away. So we were able to use it extensively.”
The Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change sponsored the screening.