Thoughts on Maxine Smith, Harahan Bridge, Grizzlies, and Desegregation



Willie Herenton and Maxine Smith
  • Willie Herenton and Maxine Smith
In the aftermath of the obits and tributes to Maxine Smith, this old story came back to me. Mrs. Smith and the NAACP opposed Plan Z — the busing plan for 40,000 students in 1972. They wanted 60,000 students bused and unsuccessfully sued to overrule Plan Z, which they called “a grotesque distortion of the law.” Two dozen schools were left out of the plan because there was no hope that white students would go to them. Fear went both ways. Louis Lucas, one of the NAACP lawyers, told me several black parents complained to him that marijuana and other drugs were more prevalent at white schools than black schools.

Mrs. Smith went on the school board when it was majority white and majority male. The Memphis School System was majority black and trending moreso. One of the things I liked about her as NAACP secretary was that she worked out of a small office in a small building on Vance Avenue in a poor part of town. When I needed some historic photographs for a Memphis magazine story, she got up and dug them out of a file cabinet herself and gave them to me at no charge. We would have paid.

Desegregation was hard, even where it wasn’t violent. But there was a just goal that blacks and white rallied to. The age cutoff for people who remember separate "white" and "colored" public facilities and restaurants is about 50 now. Resegregation is harder in another way. Nobody has an answer. Nobody. There are no leaders because there are no followers who want to be led to a common goal, which is the definition of leadership.

Mayor A C Wharton suggested naming one of the parks for Maxine and Vasco Smith. That came up Monday at the meeting of the parks renaming committee. “Naming a park after her would not do her justice,” said Harold Collins, who suggested a school or school administration building might be more suitable down the road. Doug Cupples, who voted on the other side from Collins on the Confederate names, agreed it would be “premature” to name a park for the Smiths.

The pedestrian and bicycle path on the Harahan Bridge will be 10 feet wide or 12 feet wide, depending on how much planners want to pinch the budget. As an occasional bike rider, I say width matters on a path to be shared by bikes going fast and pedestrians with small children going slow. It is the main thing. Get the main thing right and spring for the extra bucks. The Greenline is 10 feet wide but there are shoulders on both sides most of the way. There will be no margin of error on the bridge path, just fences.

The bridge path from one side of the river to the other will be one mile long. One mile is about the distance from the eastern approach to the A. W. Willis Jr. Bridge to Mud Island to the entrance to Mud Island River Park. Try walking or biking it, there and back, some time on a 95-degree summer afternoon.

I watched the Grizzlies on television with friends in Michigan last weekend. They couldn’t believe that Marc Gasol was a good but hardly great player at a small private high school, Lausanne, and didn’t play college ball.

A year ago I flew Delta to Detroit for $415 round trip. This year it was $260 for the same itinerary. Go figure. And can someone explain why car rentals are so cheap? I got a car for three days for $51, tax included, and a month ago my gang and I got an even better car in Richmond, Va. for $11 a day.

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