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Copyright 1995 ABC-CLIO. This review was taken from the ABC-CLIO Video Rating Guide for Libraries on CD-ROM, a 5-year compilation of over 8900 video titles and reviews, 1990-1994. For information regarding order VRGL CD-ROM, contact: ABC-CLIO, P.O. Box 1911, Santa Barbara, CA 93116-1911; 805-968-1911

This following text has been included in the UCB Media Resources Center Web site with the kind permission of the publishers.

At the River I Stand

  • Rating: ****
  • Audience: High School to Adult
  • Price: Public performance: $195.00
  • Date: Copyright 1993. Released 1993.
  • Descriptors: King, Martin Luther, Jr.. Civil rights movement. Blacks - History. Memphis (Tenn.) - History. United States - History - 20th century. Strikes and lockouts.
  • Production Information: Live action, Archival footage. Produced by David Appleby, Allison Graham, Steven John Rossy. Directed by David Appleby, Allison Graham, Steven John Rossy. Narrated by Paul Winfield. Color, b&w. Also available in 3/4 inch. Hi-fi. Includes Teacher's guide. 58 min.
  • Production Company: California Newsreel 149 9th St., #420 San Francisco, CA 94103 (415)621-6196 Available from production company
  • Cataloging: 331.892'09"768 Sanitation workers strike, Memphis, Tenn., 1968||Afro-Americans - Tennessee - Memphis - History - 20th century||Documentary films
  • Print Entry #: 5:1014
  • Reviewer: Eleanor Becher

    To be a black sanitation worker in Memphis during the 1960s was to be poor, patronized, exploited, and then fired if part of a walk-out led by T. O. Jones in 1963. However, in 1968, courage, perseverance, and unity triumphed over prejudice, a Southern power structure, and even internal dissension. The black ministers of Memphis joined the workers in confronting the plantation mentality of Mayor Henry Loeb and gained the support and presence of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was later assassinated. The perspective of time and the reflections of those who were involved - workers, clergy, and activists - combine with remarkably revealing footage and smooth narration to capture the tension and the forces that converged in this struggle to gain union recognition.

    Following two deaths caused by faulty equipment, 1,300 sanitation workers, still led by Jones, petitioned the City Council for union recognition and a dues check-off. They were dismissed by Loeb with contempt and clichÇs. The black community coalesced behind the workers but the city government refused to negotiate, rejected the Public Works Committee's recommendation, and provoked marchers so that police intervened. Still pursuing tactics of intimidation, Loeb threatened, "Memphis will not tolerate civil disorder!"

    But the conflict did not remain isolated within the province of Mayor Loeb. It soon took on national implications and attracted the attention of national civil rights leaders. King, who believed that economics and civil rights are inseparable, saw in Memphis an example of the very issue he hoped to underscore with a peoples' campaign against poverty. He came, he marched, and he left as a violent contingent smashed windows along the route and brought in police. Loeb called the National Guard. After the disaster, King's leadership was widely criticized.

    However, King, with the support of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, returned to organize the largest civil rights demonstration ever planned, even working to include the Invaders, a black power group that had formerly been hostile to King. His violent death, put in the context of these events, becomes even more memorable and tragic. The documentary gives a better understanding of his greatness by providing an emotional and visual experience not possible in a written text. It has all of the impact of Eyes on the Prize (Blackside, Inc., 1986), but by focusing on a single and singular event, gives the vivid and powerful effect of a drama.

    The solemn, final march in Memphis was a tribute to King and to the people who had never abandoned their protest against injustice and suffering. When their goal was finally realized 63 days after the strike started, those who participated perhaps realized that not just their lives had changed, but also the whole civil rights movement.

    It would seem almost inexcusable not to acquire this selection simply on its own merits. It has particular relevance, of course, for black studies, labor history, and social activism (as well as the lack of it) among clergy. The program is beautifully conceived, produced, and presented. A refrain by James Cleveland remains to ponder: "One more river to cross before I lay my burden down."

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