Music Video Monday is proud to be a Memphian today.
In the wake of the police killings of Philadro Castille in St. Paul and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, and the mass shooting of police officers in Dallas, Black Lives Matter protests have turned into violent confrontations all over the country. Last night in Memphis, when BLM protestors set out to shut down the Hernando de Soto bridge over the Mississippi, the events of the spring of 1968 loomed large over their actions. On March 28 of that year, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a march downtown in support of the Sanitation Workers strike that ended in a violent riot. When Dr. King returned a week later to lead a second, hopefully peaceful march, he was assassinated, and the city—not to mention the world—was never the same.
But last night was different. There were no arrests, no violent confrontations. The protestors exercised their First Amendment rights to peaceably assemble and seek redress of their grievances with their government, and the police response–which included Interim Police Chief Michael Rallings marching arm in arm with the protestors as they cleared the bridge—was exemplary. These Memphians were determined to set an example for America and the world. This protest that could have ended in violence, recrimination, and division has instead brought us together and focused our attention on the problems of racial disparity in law enforcement. This one incident is not going to automagically solve the deep racial and economic divisions of our city, but maybe, just maybe, we took a step towards putting the ghosts of '68 to rest.
On August 20, 1972, the stars of Stax played a massive outdoor concert in the Los Angeles Colesium to call attention to the still-unhealed scars of riots that had occurred in that city's Watts neighborhood seven years earlier. In this clip from David L. Wolper and Marty Stewart's documentary Wattstax, Pops Staples leads his family and a crowd of 112,000 in song. The power of "Respect Yourself" echoes across the decades, and we're sending it out to all the brave women and men on the bridge who showed our country a way forward.