up in the bleachers.” “Being one of the ﬁrst to integrate Opelousas High School wasn’t ever going to be easy son. Doctor King and Reverend Abernathy are embracing the Lord’s walk to Calvary every day to make things better for us all and you are doing your part.” “Yes indeed Mama,” he responded automatically. Arthur’s mother had a habit of attributing almost any success to Dr. King. She had been embracing the Lord and Dr. King more frequently in the last few weeks. Opelousas High School opened in a new building four years ago and this year for the ﬁrst time it had been integrated. One thousand students and only 14 were not white. Arthur was the only Negro senior in the school. The ﬁrst rainy day of the school year Coach Nelson had let the seniors play dodge ball against the juniors. The white boys on his team had left Arthur against the wall and let all of the other teams balls gang up on him. The coach had just gone into the ofﬁce at that point and missed what happened. Arthur never dressed out for dodge ball again. Aside from saying “present” in class Arthur was silent throughout the day. He would talk to the other integrating students brieﬂy between classes and if they sat together during lunch. Last Thursday Dr. King had gone to Memphis to march with city garbage workers who had been on strike for seven weeks. The sanitation workers wanted the AFL-CIO municipal employees union recognized as their bargaining agent. Workers were treated differently according to their skin color. Among the differences, white workers on rainy days were sent home and paid for their time while Negro workers were sent home empty handed. Something went terribly wrong during the march. All-Negro Hamilton High School was the site of disturbances that quickly exploded into rioting and looting along Beale Street.
More than 200 storefronts had windows broken. The owner of Quality Liquors on Hernandon hid with her daughter in a locked bathroom while their store was looted. In the end one person was killed, 62 were injured and over 200 were arrested. Thursday night had been marked by shooting, ﬁres, and vandalism across Memphis. Police cars were ﬁred upon and armed National Guardsmen had ridden on ﬁre trucks responding to the ﬁres. Everything that Dr. King stood for had been challenged in Memphis last week. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference was based upon non-violence and the Memphis garbage strike now spelled defeat for the leader. The following day Dr. King had brokered another march with the city administration before leaving town for Atlanta. On Friday Assistant Police Chief Henry Lux led 300 sanitation workers and sympathizers down the sidewalk. As they moved down the street more than 4,000 National Guardsmen in green military vehicles and jeeps kept things orderly as the marchers formed a long line down Main Street. Walter Cronkite on the evening news that night had shown large personnel carriers with 50 caliber machine guns on them rumbling down Beale Street. A reminder of their presence would remain afterwards as indentations of half-track treads in the black asphalt. Friday’s march was supervised by Reverend J. M. Lawson, one of the leaders of the garbage strike movement. Reverend Lawson had turned away marchers with liquor on their breath and stripped away sticks on signs so 4
Published on Aug 5, 2012