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Let’s Talk! About Civil Rights

An open community story telling event at Caritas Village in Memphis, TN organized by L. Hamdan

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Commercial Appeal review of the event by Thomas Bailey Jr. Posted January 10, 2015

An open invitation to share civil rights stories not only packed Caritas Village late Saturday afternoon, it drew a who’s who of Memphis dissenters, street protesters and justice seekers.
About 75 people nearly filled the Binghamton restaurant for the “Civil Rights Story Telling’’ event.
The stories and storytellers spanned five decades, encompassing everything from the now-revered 1968 sanitation workers’ strike to the current “We Can’t Breathe” movement for police reform.
Sprinkled among the audience were T-shirts like “#Film The Police” and “Free The Jena 6.’’
The audience represented an array of causes: the Memphis Bus Riders Union, the Memphis Center for Independent Living, rights for the homeless, raising the minimum wage, criminal justice reform, racial justice, race issues at Rhodes College and more.
Leila Hamdan, who recently earned a master’s at the University of Memphis by “reinvestigating” the story of the civil rights movement surrounding the sanitation strike, said she organized Saturday’s event.
She wanted to add a community discussion to the more formal parts of her thesis work that have included a photo exhibition, paper and formal presentations.
“This was something I really wanted to have,” she said. “Not me talking, but to hear about other people.”
Some of the people Hamdan and others heard were the children of a 1968 sanitation worker who did not strike, but who suffered just the same.
In her research of old Memphis Press Scimitar photographs from the era, Hamdan found a photo of the late sanitation worker Lyles Caldwell. The image shows him holding a rock that someone had thrown threw a window of his home.
“I happened to be home that afternoon,” Caldwell’s daughter, Annie Cast, told the crowd. She was 17 in 1968. “My father had already said, ‘It’s getting kind of dangerous out here … But you know I need to work’.’’
“A big ‘ol rock came through the window. It broke the whole window.’’
Other speakers included a current Rhodes College student, Schaeffer Mallory, who told of problems on campus with students voicing “homophobic, misogynist, (classism) and some particularly racist things” through an anonymous social media app called Yik Yak.
Mallory sat across the table from Coby Smith. He was one of the first black students to attend Rhodes College and one of the founders of the civil rights-era, black-power group called The Memphis Invaders.
Smith expressed pride in Mallory and other young activists in the room.
“These are the new Invaders, these are our kids,” Smith said. “And they give me a lot of satisfaction … I didn’t think about it at the time, but we sowed a lot of seeds.”
Paul Garner, a full-time organizer with the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, said he was honored to be in the company of fellow activists, organizers and community members.
Hamdan’s photo exhibit at Caritas Village, “Culture and Resistance: Civil Rights Photography, Memphis 1968,” is scheduled to close after Sunday.

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