Dr. James Lawson addressing members of Voices of Justice for the Mid South. (Courtesy photo)

Saturday, April 7, will be a day of remembrance for hundreds of Memphians as they commemorate the 1968 Ministers March from St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral to City Hall downtown.

The occasion is an official MLK50-sanctioned event, organized by Voices For Justice in the Mid-South (VFJMS) co-chairs, Mark Stansbury and Dean Andy Andrews.

The march will harken back to a time when the city was cloaked in deep sadness and despair – one day after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been murdered here.

Seething anger would erupt in the streets where rioting and burning rampantly spread. The African-American community raged against the racial culpability of whites in a troubling, disquieted ethnic divide.

Marshall law was declared and war tanks rolled over the streets of Memphis, with armed, uniformed soldiers enforcing a curfew that criminalized being on the streets after dark. The cry was no longer “Selma, Lord, Selma,”

where marchers were attacked in a voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery. “Memphis, Lord, Memphis” may have been a cry of those who languished with the grief and hopelessness that Dr. King’s death had caused.

And the eyes of the world were watching.

However, there were those who sought peace and reconciliation, well before Dr. King was assassinated.

On Saturday, February 3rd of that fateful year, the Memphis Press-Scimitar published a full- page ad by the Memphis Ministers Association

(MMA) promoting “Race Relations Sunday” to “urge the people of our community to look into their hearts and purge their souls of every vestige of prejudice and intolerance.” The ad, which also ran Sunday, February 4th in The Commercial Appeal, was signed by the members of MMA, an organization of white, church leaders.

Further, the document touted three major positions in an “Appeal to Conscience:”

  • “Each human being bears the imprint of Divinity, and each soul possesses the potential quality of sanctity…”
  • “Show respect for one another and to love each other is a moral obligation in every reli- gious tradition.”
  • “We ask for an end to racial discrimination in all areas of human experience.”

Other stories ran leading up to April 4th as MMA called on city leaders to deal with the Sani- tation Strike in a compassionate, humane manner. On April 5th, one day after the worst that could have happened to Dr. King actually had happened, MMA clergy marched to City Hall with thousands of others who wanted to see the strike come to a fair and peaceful conclusion.

The historic event began at St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, 700 Poplar Avenue.

A news article that day ran with news of the march: “Settle Strike Ministers Urge.” After holding a memorial service for Dr. King, the march ensued to City Hall.

The upcoming commemoration of that march will begin at 11 a.m., at St. Mary’s where a number of speakers will address the crowd.

Those who will be on hand include: Rev. James Lawson who marched along with King; Dr. James L. Netters, Pastor Emeritus of Mt. Vernon Baptist Church-Westwood and one of the city’s first African-American city councilmen; Bishop Edward Lynn Brown, presiding prelate of the CME Church; Dr. Reginald L. Porter, pastor of Metropolitan Baptist Church; Mother Georgia King, local civil rights activist who was there 50 years ago; Congressman Steve Cohen, and Jesse T. Jones, son of T.O. Jones, president of Local 1733, who led the strike back in 1968.

The march will culminate downtown with Mayor Jim Strickland and others addressing marchers between 3-4 p.m.

This event is free.