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Martin Luther King, Jr. 4/3/68

University of Memphis Special Collections

Memphis was shattered in April 1968.


Five decades after that defining moment, MLK50 compels us to come to grips with what happened in 1968 and the resulting years of anguish of a society both demanding and resisting change. Yet a transformation has occurred. In the spirit of the National Civil Rights Museum’s MLK50 commemoration theme — “Where Do We Go From Here?” — we sought out witnesses this April in various professions, people who know our majority-black city, people who can tell their own stories, and who can provide insight into our future.


Perhaps we can never completely eradicate the scourge of racism, but we can never stop trying. The voices here point the way.

  • Karanja Ajanaku

    Photo by Brandon Dill

    Karanja Ajanaku

    As associate publisher and executive editor of The New Tri-State Defender, Karanja Ajanaku says his role is to "provide verifiable information that people can use to make decisions." more

  • Archie Willis

    Photo by Brandon Dill

    Archie Willis

    Always interested in affordable housing, Archie Willis launched Community Capital (now ComCap Partners) "to bridge the gap between what was happening in the neighborhoods with resources available in the capital markets." more

  • Melvin Charles Smith

    Photo by Brandon Dill

    Melvin Charles Smith

    As pastor of Mt. Moriah-East Baptist Church, the Reverend Melvin Charles Smith says his congregation works hard on the preventive side, "not only in health, but preventive in getting away from things that will cause you to have problems in life." more

  • Otis Sanford

    Photo by Brandon Dill

    Otis Sanford

    Otis Sanford, with long experience in the print and broadcast news business, today holds the University of Memphis Hardin Chair of Excellence in Economic and Managerial Journalism. more

  • Desiree Robinson

    Photo by Brandon Dill

    Desiree Robinson

    In 1977 Desiree Robinson and her husband, Raymond, opened the Cozy Corner restaurant, and now "everybody under the sun comes in here," she says. "If this room was full right now, half of the people would be races other than black." more

  • Mearl Purvis

    Photo courtesy Cox Media Group

    Mearl Purvis

    Mearl Purvis, one of the best-known anchors in Memphis television history, has been the news anchor at WHBQ Fox 13 for 13 years. She recalls what her parents taught her: "You can't let hate eat you up from the inside out." more

  • Johnny Moore

    Photo by Brandon Dill

    Johnny Moore

    President of SunTrust Bank since 2009, Johnny Moore believes, "We've got to get African Americans in more senior roles in this industry. Then you've got people from different cultures and backgrounds making choices." more

  • Andrea Miller

    Photo by Brandon Dill

    Andrea Miller

    Dr. Andrea Miller, president of LeMoyne-Owen College, says that attending historically black colleges throughout her own education contributed to her success, not only as a student, but as a confident, self-aware person. more

  • Dorsey Hopson

    Photo by Brandon Dill

    Dorsey Hopson

    Dorsey Hopson, superintendent of Shelby County Schools, believes that progress can only come if there is "a continued awareness of what happened in the past more

  • Carolyn Hardy

    Photo by Brandon Dill

    Carolyn Hardy

    Carolyn Hardy, president of Chism Hardy Investments, has thrived in a business world dominated by white men. "Equity is not happening on its own," she says. "You've got to have people who are willing to give other people a chance." more

  • Jarvis Greer

    Photo by Brandon Dill

    Jarvis Greer

    Sportscaster Jarvis Greer will celebrate his 40th year at WMC-TV next year and also does radio broadcasts for University of Memphis Tigers football. more

  • Lurlynn Franklin

    Photo by Brandon Dill

    Lurlynn Franklin

    Artist and author Lurlynn Franklin hopes that in the future, African-American art "becomes more political, touches on things or tries to combine history with what's happening symbolically." more

  • Darrell Cobbins

    Photo by Brandon Dill

    Darrell Cobbins

    As the head of Universal Commercial Real Estate, Darrell Cobbins is today one of the few African-American commercial real estate firm owners in Memphis. more

  • Kennard Brown

    Photo by Brandon Dill

    Dr. Kennard Brown

    An executive vice chancellor and chief operations officer at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Dr. Kennard Brown believes UT "has a social responsibility to offer everybody an equal opportunity to contribute to the greater good." more

  • Lawrence Matthews

    Photo by Brandon Dill

    Kevin Brooks & Lawrence Matthews

    Memphis filmmakers Kevin Brooks and Lawrence Matthews believe that black writers and directors were long shut out of Hollywood, but a renaissance is taking place. more

  • Ruby Bright

    Photo by Brandon Dill

    Ruby Bright

    Ruby Bright, executive director of the Women's Foundation for a Greater Memphis, believes the death of Dr. Martin Luther King was the catalyst that led her to a life of community service. more

  • Ekundayo Bandele

    Photo by Brandon Dill

    Ekundayo Bandele

    "There are only four free-standing African-American theaters in the United States, and we have one," says Ekundayo Bandele, founder of the Hattiloo Theatre in Overton Square. more

  • Calvin Anderson

    Photo by Brandon Dill

    Calvin Anderson

    "By addressing jobs and economic development, you address poverty and healthcare," says Calvin Anderson, recently retired from BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. more

Memphis magazine, April 2018