The 1969 Black Monday Protest in Memphis
In the aftermath of the sanitation strike and the assassination of Martin Luther King, the black community in Memphis achieved an unprecedented political mobilization, especially through the NAACP’s “Black Monday” protest. This essay employs local archival collections, newspapers, and personal interviews to show that in less than two months, the NAACP was able to create a unified front within the black community that forced rapid changes in the Memphis school system. While the NAACP organized downtown marches, pickets, and Monday boycotts of public schools, black youths vandalized schools and businesses before the approaching holiday season. At its height, more than 66,000 students and 600 teachers missed school to support the protest. By the time the boycott ended, the school board agreed to appoint two black advisers, a black assistant superintendent, and a black coordinator. The Black Monday protest was successful, but it also exposed the limitations of coalitions in the Black Power era, as moderates and radicals struggled to find common ground.
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