Segments in this Video

Crisis in Memphis (02:07)


1968, Memphis, Tennessee: a local labor dispute erupts into a major battle. It draws Martin Luther King Jr. into the final confrontation of his life. A video montage shows the disparity between lives of black and whites.

Menial Jobs, Low Wages (01:46)

One hundred years after the emancipation of blacks, economically, their descendants continued to occupy the most menial jobs with the lowest wages. This was evident in the department of public works, where the workers had no rights.

Sanitation Workers Protest (02:39)

T. O. Jones led 32 workers off the job. They were fired. When two black workers are crushed in a refuse truck, there is no insurance or worker's compensation for their families. In response, 1,300 sanitation workers walk off the job.

Mayor's Refusal to Negotiate (03:49)

Memphis Mayor Henry Loeb tells the 1,300 black workers to go back to work. The mayor cuts off talks with the workers. Black leaders call the mayor's actions for what it is--racism.

City Council vs. Black Workers (03:27)

Mayor Loeb hires replacement workers for the striking workers. Workers stage a sit-in at City Hall. The City Council meets in private and agrees to support the mayor and not give in to the striking workers.

Police-Instigated Violence (01:36)

Union leaders get police permission to march with the workers to a nearby church. As the crowd marches, police cars push against them. Finally, the men push back. Police bring out riot gear, and the conflict escalates.

"I Am a Man" (03:50)

Rev. James Lawson led a movement that rose out of the sanitation workers' strike. Many blacks carried signs urging blacks to stop buying retail goods. The slogan that made its way around the world was "I am a man."

Memphis Mayor vs. Black Workers (03:41)

In response to the City Council's inaction, the Movement escalates. Protestors force the police to arrest hundreds of them. The white community rallies around the mayor. The Movement attracts attention of national civil rights leaders.

Support of Martin Luther King, Jr. (04:51)

Martin Luther King, Jr. stops in Memphis on his way to Washington, D.C. where he was planning the Poor People's Campaign. As King spoke to 6,000 people in support of the sanitation workers' strike, he decided to stay to support them.

Volatile Trap for King (03:42)

The white community in Memphis stages anti-King propaganda campaign. King is unaware of the volatile atmosphere in Memphis where he is returning to lead a non-violent march.

When a March Becomes a Riot (02:48)

The non-violent march soon becomes violent when over 600 police officers descend and begin agitating the marchers. King is urged to leave the march. The march explodes into a riot when the leaders leave.

King's Credibility (02:57)

Memphis Mayor Loeb calls in the National Guard. By nightfall the city is under martial law. From black citizens of Memphis to the U.S. Congress, people question the credibility of Martin Luther King's leadership.

King's Commitment to Non-Violence (03:37)

When asked why he "abandoned" the Memphis march, King answers that he will lead only non-violent marches. Strikers and their supporters continue to walk with signs while police and the National Guard look on.

Preparation for Second March (01:59)

King arrives in Memphis to take part in a 2nd non-violent march. King and his staff strategize to ensure a non-violent march. Archival film footage shows Memphis police and the National Guard ready themselves for confrontation.

Mountaintop Speech (04:27)

While rain and lightning rage outside the temple, inside thousands of people listen to Martin Luther King, Jr. speak. "I have been to the mountaintop," says King. He promises that they will all make it to the Promised Land.

Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (01:49)

April 4, 1968. Eyewitnesses recall the moments before King's assassination. His last words were, "Pray for me. Pray real pretty for me." President Johnson speaks to America.

Memphis Burns (02:28)

Archival film footage shows Memphis burning, National Guard on patrol, King lying in state, and weeping people. Mayor Loeb expresses sorrow at what happened to King. Memphis clergy castigate the mayor.

Solemn March in Memphis (01:22)

April 8, 1968. People from across the country join the Memphis black community to keep King's promise to stage a non-violent march in support of the striking workers.

Black Victory in Memphis (02:25)

Negotiations resume, and the City Council approves. Mayor Loeb will never budge from the stance he held from the first day of the strike. Union officials spell out the terms of the agreement and the official recognition of the union.

End of an Era in Civil Rights Movement (01:04)

The 1,300 sanitation workers in Memphis defied the laws of Tennessee and challenged the power structure of the Old South. Two weeks after the end of the strike, Martin Luther King's Poor People's Campaign began its march to Washington from the Lorraine Motel.

Credits: At the River I Stand (01:51)

Credits: At the River I Stand

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At the River I Stand

3-Year Streaming Price: $169.95



This documentary unravels the complex historical forces that turned a strike by Memphis sanitation workers into a national conflagration, ultimately leading to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Reconstructing two eventful months in the spring of 1968, the film brings into sharp relief issues that have become only more urgent with time: the connection between economic and civil rights, debates over strategies for change, and the fight for dignity for all working people. Stirring historical footage shows the community mobilizing behind the strikers, and retired sanitation workers recall their fear about going up against “the white power structure” when they struck for higher wages and union recognition. (58 minutes)

Length: 59 minutes

Item#: BVL49745

Copyright date: ©1993

Closed Captioned

Reviews & Awards

“One of the most clearheaded, evenhanded documentaries about the civil rights movement you’ll ever see, and a piece of gripping story-telling as well.”  Dallas Observer  


“An excellent film on the movement which drew Martin Luther King to Memphis and his death. It reveals how the black and labor movements both win by struggling together.”  —Julian Bond, Chair, NAACP  


“It would seem almost inconceivable not to acquire this video. Beautifully conceived, produced, and presented.”  Video Rating Guide for Libraries  


Winner of the Erik Barnouw Award for Best Documentary, from the Organization of American Historians


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