FILM: "At The River I Stand" documentary of MLK and Memphis sanitation workers strike

6pm, Sunday, April 3rd
Vermont Workers' Center
294 N. Winooski Ave, Burlington

The People's University For Learning & Liberation (PULL) film series presents

“At The River I Stand”

Find this event on Facebook

ABOUT THE FILM

1994 Erik Barnouw Award for Best Documentary, Organization of American Historians

Memphis, Spring 1968, marked the dramatic climax of the Civil Rights movement. At the River I Stand skillfully reconstructs the two eventful months that transformed a local labor dispute into a national conflagration, and disentangles the complex historical forces that came together with the inevitability of tragedy at the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This 58-minute documentary brings into sharp relief issues that have only become more urgent in the intervening years: the connection between economic and civil rights, the debate over violent vs. nonviolent change, and the demand for full inclusion of African Americans in American life.

In the 1960s, Memphis' 1,300 sanitation workers formed the lowest caste of a deeply racist society, earning so little they qualified for welfare. In the film, retired workers recall their fear about taking on the entire white power structure when they struck for higher wages and union recognition.

But local civil rights leaders and the Black community soon realized the strike was part of the struggle for economic justice for all African Americans. Through stirring historical footage we see the community mobilizing behind the strikers, organizing mass demonstrations and an Easter boycott of downtown businesses. The national leadership of AFSCME put the international union's full resources behind the strike. One day, a placard appeared on the picket lines which in its radical simplicity summed up the meaning of the strike: "I am a man."

In March, Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Memphis as part of his Poor People's Campaign to expand the civil rights agenda to the economy. The film recreates the controversies between King's advisors, local leaders, and younger militants - debates that led to open conflict. When young hotheads turned King's protest march into a violent confrontation with the brutal Memphis policy, King left.

King and the nation realized his leadership and nonviolent strategy had been threatened. King felt obliged to return to Memphis to resume a nonviolent march despite the by-now feverish racial tensions. The film captures the deep sense of foreboding that pervaded King's final "I have been to the mountaintop" speech. The next day, April 4, 1968, he was assassinated.

Four days later, thousands from Memphis and around the country rallied to pull off King's nonviolent march. The city council crumbled and granted most of the strikers' demands. Those 1,300 sanitation workers had shown they could successfully challenge the entrenched economic structure of the South.

Endemic inner-city poverty along with the growing gap between the rich and the rest of us make clear that the issues Martin Luther King, Jr. raised in his last days have yet to be addressed. At the River I Stand succeeds in showing that the causes of (and possibly the solutions to) our present racial quandary may well be found in what happened in Memphis. Its riveting portrait of the grit and determination of ordinary people will inspire viewers to re-dedicate themselves to racial and economic justice
-----------------------

CRITICAL COMMENT

"One of the most clearheaded, evenhanded documentaries about the civil rights movement you'll ever see, and a piece of gripping storytelling as well." - Dallas Observer

"An excellent film on the movement which drew Martin Luther King to Memphis and his death. It reveals how the black and labor movements both win by struggling together!" - Julian Bond, Chair, NAACP

"The struggle and triumph of dignity over injustice is the luminous tapestry of all great social movements. At the River I Stand is an inspiring visual testament and a call to witness to every viewer."
- Gerald McEntee, President, AFSCME

"More than any other Civil Rights documentary, this is a deeply emotional, riveting narration of black working-class resistance that speaks to the current crisis and jars our collective memory. To see these determined, dignified sanitation workers and to witness the Black Memphis community's solidarity with the strikers was enough to bring tears." - Robin D.G. Kelley, Columbia University

"Has all the impact of Eyes on the Prize. It would seem almost inconceivable not to acquire this video. Beautifully conceived, produced and presented." - Video Rating Guide for Libraries

"An eloquent and powerful work of history...offering new insight into the intersection of race and class."

1994 Erik Barnouw Award, Best Documentary, Organization of American Historians