Marchers Clash with Police

Photograph of protesters being maced.

“Sanitation strike – Police”. Volunteer Voices: The Growth of Democracy in Tennessee. Original Image: Special Collections Dept., University Libraries, University of Memphis.

February 24, 1968

A group of marchers protesting in solidarity with striking sanitation workers met police resistance yesterday afternoon (Friday, February 23) in downtown Memphis. The march started at 3:45 PM with a route beginning from City Hall at Main and Poplar Avenue stretching to the Mason Temple located on Mason Street, located near E.H. Crump Boulevard and South Wellington Street.

After starting peacefully, the marchers proceeded south on Main Street when a police car reportedly ran over the foot of a part-time city employee Gladys Carpenter. This caused a few marchers to respond angrily by manually rocking the car back and forth. The officers driving the squad car seemingly were bumping into marchers in an apparent effort to keep them on the west side of Main Street. The officers inside the squad car got out and sprayed Mace on the marchers breaking up the procession in front of Goldsmith’s at Main and Gayoso. The police then began Macing and hitting people indiscriminately with their nightsticks.

Numerous marchers, members of the press, and observers got hit with mace and billy-clubs. Among those Maced included Rev. Jim Lawson of the Centenary Methodist Church, Shelby County human rights director Jerry Fanion, Civil Rights Commission southern field office director Jacques Wilmore, former manager at the Memphis Housing Authority Cornelia Crenshaw, and P.J. Ciampa of the AFSCME.

While the City Government and the Mayor’s office support the police actions against the marchers, a number of private citizens have taken offence to the police response. In a telegram between Mrs. Agnes Jaynes to Mayor Loeb, she admonishes the mayor by stating “I want you to know that I back you 100 percent in regard to who’s responsibility is this shameful condition.” She adds, “[y]our obvious personal prejudices … will surely earn for you the honor of being the first mayor of a riot torn Memphis.”

Agnes H. Jaynes to Henry Loeb, Feb 24 1968. Box 238, Folder 8. Papers of Henry Loeb III. History Department, Memphis Public Libraries, Memphis, TN.
Beifuss, Joan Turner. At The River I Stand. 2nd ed. Memphis: St. Luke’s Press, 1990.
Dowdy, G. Wayne. Crusades for Freedom: Memphis and the Political Transformation of the American South. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2010.
Honey, Michael K. Going Down Jericho Road: The Memphis Strike, Martin Luther King’s Last Campaign. New York : W.W. Norton and Company, 2007.