Determination and Courage

On March 28, 1968, 5000 marchers strong headed up Beale St. led by Dr. King. Behind Dr. King you could hear windows breaking by teenagers. With the help of Rev. Henry Logan Starks, Dr. King was removed from the march. At this point all hell broke loose. As the police moved in, it became like a war zone. 280 marchers were arrested and later, 16 year old Larry Payne was shot and killed for looting. This was a very sad day for Memphis and the country.

I Am A Man
This well-known image captures an important Beale Street moment in the civil rights movement. On March 28, 1960, striking city sanitation workers and their supporters, more than 5,000 strong, participated in a march led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. A week later Dr. King was dead, and the simple four- words signs the workers carried became the battle cry for the black labor movement in Memphis and across the nation.

“Dignity” The 1968 sanitation workers strike appeared to some to be only a labor dispute. But words and faces like these persuaded many that the strike was about much more than just job safety, wages, and the right to organize. It was a fight for dignity, as proclaimed by the sign held by Ted Brown. In the background Rev. Theodore Hibbler wore an “I Am A Man” sign. Both men were participating in a downtown Memphis march on March 29, 1968.

Richard L. Copley started his career in journalism working in the then Memphis State Photo Lab under his mentor Gil Michael.  He worked freelance during the 1968 Sanitation Strike, documenting the labor civil rights movement by taking the iconic “I Am A Man” image, while standing next to Ernest Withers as he took his iconic image.  It should be noted the gentleman, James Riley in the middle of Copley’s image, is still alive today to celebrate MLK 50.  While still a student at the University he found his second mentor, Noel Clarkson, by working as a summer replacement for WREC-TV in the basement of the Peabody Hotel.  His early dream was to work for National Geographic, but television news was his calling. He is an award winning cameraman, working at WAGA-TV in Atlanta, WRKO in Boston, back to Memphis at WMC -TV, covering Elvis’ funeral live from a helicopter, sending pictures to Memphis, New York and the world.  He moved to New York in 1980 to work for NBC and went freelance in 1988, after moving to Vermont, working for ABC News, 20/20, GMA, NBC News, Dateline, Today and CBS News 60 Minutes.  He was at 9/11 on the roof of 30 Rock with Tom Brokaw the night of, for Nightly News.  When Katrina came ashore he was in Biloxi live for 7 hours for ABC News and covered many days of aftermath.  He still continues to cover hurricanes, weather related stories, feature stories and documentaries for the Networks.

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Richard L. Copley


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