Your correspondent returns after witnessing a healthy community resistance
A lot has happened since last I shared my thoughts with you. Insurrectionists and white supremacists attacked our constitutional government, we have a new President, and vaccines are beginning to bring an end to the pandemic.
I stopped writing this column back in October because I no longer felt I had anything useful to write. However, the experiences I had this past Sunday and Monday made me realize I may still have a few helpful ideas to share with Storyboard Memphis readers.
The sky was cloudy when Derrick and I arrived at Alonzo Weaver Park to see former Vice President Al Gore speak on behalf of the grassroots organization Memphis Community Against the Pipeline (MCAP), formed to block an oil pipeline from being built in southwest Memphis. We went because Derrick wanted to see a vice president up close, while I felt it was important to chronicle the event for the Memphis Room. Several hundred citizens from all across the city attended, demonstrating the strength of Memphis’s civic culture.
Some time ago one of the company officials unwisely stated that the decision to route the Byhalia Pipeline through Boxtown was “a point of least resistance.” Many speakers heaped scorn on this patronizing turn of phrase.
Former Vice President Gore said, “Least resistance? I see a lot of resistance here today!”
“I’m here to tell you our community is the path of resistance,” declared Kizzy Dunlap Jones, one of the founders of MCAP.
The phrase “path of resistance” led me to recall the many rallying cries that have echoed down through Memphis history. A “trick of the proprietors” screamed Memphis’s first white settlers when they learned a city government had been established behind their backs. “We don’t care what Mr. Crump don’t ‘low ” sang W.C. Handy. “I Am a Man,” proclaimed striking sanitation workers. Grit and Grind,” “Memphis vs. Errbody” and, “Take that for Data” asserted the Memphis Grizzlies while defenders of Overton Park shouted “Save the Greensward.”
All of these pronouncements reflect the grassroots defiance that has characterized Memphis since its beginning. Indeed, it is a historical fact that those who stand against the grassroots spirit of Memphis often find themselves in a world of hurt. As Mr. Gore explained, “now they have run into Memphis, Tennessee.”
Peaceful resistance was not the only virtue on display in Southwest Memphis. Faith spread among the crowd as Clyde Robinson, one of the owners being sued for his land, broke into song – “There’s a storm out on the mountain and it’s moving this old way if your soul not anchored in Jesus you will surely drift away…”
Taking the stage, former Vice President Gore declared, “I feel like I have been to church.” For the hundreds who sang with Mr. Robinson, no doubt they felt the same way.
On Monday the cloudy skies turned warm and sunny as Derrick and I went to the Fairgrounds to receive our first Covid-19 vaccination. As the line of cars snaked their way towards the Pipkin building, I thought of all the others who had sought help at this place. For over a century the Fairgrounds has been the site where emergency services have been provided during the many times disaster has struck the Bluff City. During the 1912, 1927, and 1937 Mississippi River floods thousands of refugees were housed there, as was a large contingent of World War I soldiers who camped near the Pipkin building in 1932 on their way to Washington, DC to demand government action. In recent years the Pipkin building has been open for those seeking shelter from extreme weather. It is comforting to see the Fairgrounds again being used to help in a time of need.
I am not sure when I will write again, but rest assured that when I feel a contribution will be useful, I will take up my pen.
Your faithful correspondent
Wayne Dowdy is a senior librarian and archivist at the Memphis Public Library and Information Center. In 2015 he was awarded the Tennessee Historical Commission’s Certificate of Merit for his book On This Day in Memphis History. His most recent book is Enslavement in Memphis.