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An Unseen LightBlack Struggles for Freedom in Memphis, Tennessee$
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Aram Goudsouzian and Charles W. McKinney Jr.

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780813175515

Published to Kentucky Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.5810/kentucky/9780813175515.001.0001

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Black Workers Matter

Black Workers Matter

The Continuing Search for Racial and Economic Equality in Memphis

(p.366) Black Workers Matter
An Unseen Light

Michael K. Honey

University Press of Kentucky

What happened to Martin Luther King’s dream of economic equality in Memphis? For most of the city’s history, 80 percent or more of the black community has consisted of black workers. Slavery set the terms of cheap labor as the measure of profitability in Memphis, and white economic elites have pursued that measure of profitability ever since, but not without resistance from black working people. Drawing on the last thirty years of research on Memphis labor and race relations, this essay surveys the struggles of black workers and the black community as a whole for economic advancement. After documenting decisive, powerful advances for African Americans in Memphis during the “long civil rights movement” from 1934 to 1968, the essay surveys the fate of the black working class and poses questions about the legacy of the freedom struggle in the fifty years since 1968, during which time more educated and politically involved people have advanced, while the fate of undereducated, underpaid, or unemployed working people has worsened. The legacy of the black freedom struggle in Memphis continues in the increasingly difficult terrain of America’s racial capitalism in the twenty-first-century global economy.

Keywords:   Memphis, Martin Luther King, black working class, racial capitalism, economic equality

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