The speakers at the news conference at Metropolitan Baptist Church next to LeMoyne-Owen College included men, women, blacks, and whites, young and old. But the turnout fell short of the "close to 50 diverse clergy" touted in the press release put out by former Shelby County Commission member Diedre Malone, who is working on the pro-merger side.
Memphis ministers appear to be as divided as other groups on the issue. The Memphis Baptist Ministerial Association opposes the proposed surrender of the Memphis City Schools charter. Early voting ended Thursday. The rule of thumb is that early voting accounts for half the final vote. If that holds, then a turnout in the vicinity of 15 percent is likely. Activists on both sides are gearing up get-out-the-vote efforts, rallies, and 11th hour advertising.
A rally Friday evening at New Olivet Baptist Church led by anti-merger board member Kenneth Whalum Jr., drew a crowd of about 200 people, including several AFSCME members and board members Jeff Warren and Sara Lewis.
"We are called to point people in the right direction and then encourage them to go there," said Reginald Porter, senior pastor at Metropolitan Baptist Church. "We cannot allow those who promote fear, divisiveness, and misinformation to win."
Several speakers, including Keith Norman of First Baptist Church Broad Avenue, said "this is a civil rights issue of our day and time."
"If we don't get this right we will find the city back in 1963 with separate but not equal," said Stacy Spencer, pastor of New Direction Christian Church in Hickory Hill.
In a pitch for black and white harmony, Former Memphis City Council member and pastor James Netters joined Maxie Dunnam, former pastor of Christ United Methodist Church.
"I marched with Dr. King and I know his philosophy," said Netters. "His philosophy was not one of division but one of bringing people together." Dunnam said what Memphians do next week will determine whether the city fulfills its potential. "This is a justice issue," he said.
Frank Thomas, pastor of Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church, urged Mempians to "vote yes because we know that separate but equal does not work."
Noel Hutchinson Jr., pastor of First Baptist Church Lauderdale, offered a slogan to counter the anti-merger "If you don't know, vote no." His suggestion: "You don't have to guess, vote yes."
Steve Montgomery, pastor of Idlewild Presbyterian Church in Midtown, said he urged members of his church, which includes residents of Memphis and suburban cities, to "make a decision based on hope, not fear. I don't know how they'll vote but that message has been warmly received."