The intersection of the 1968 Memphis garbage strike, the Poor People’s Campaign and the last days of Martin Luther King Jr. is brought to vivid life in a fine work of history writing.
Who knew that the story of garbage in Memphis, Tenn., could be so interesting, and so important? By 1968, Martin Luther King Jr.’s work had expanded beyond the social reforms of integration and voting rights to speaking out for economic justice and against the war in Vietnam. King, along with with a young activist named Marian Wright and others, was planning the Poor People’s Campaign, a march on Washington of the nation’s poor. The garbage workers in Memphis “represented exactly the sort of poor people his effort sought to help,” so off he went. This is history from the ground up, and Bausum makes good use of oral histories, newspapers, pamphlets, letters and photographs to tell her tale. Unfortunately, the fine historical narrative is undercut by the distracting design of the volume, cluttered with huge orange quotation marks throughout and photographs tinted blue, green and orange. The well-chosen photographs left untouched and the excellent writing would have sufficed for a topnotch nonfiction work.
Readers will be eyewitnesses to history in this story of one fateful chapter in the Civil Rights Movement, if they can get past the design. (research notes, resource guide, bibliography, citations) (Nonfiction. 10-14)