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MLK Documentary Wins Peabody Award With Help From U of M Libraries

For release: May 24, 2013
For press information, contact Gabrielle Maxey, 901-678-2843

MLKA documentary about the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has won the prestigious Peabody Award, with the aid of materials from the University of Memphis Libraries.

MLK: The Assassination Tapes, directed by Tom Jennings, follows the 1968 Sanitation Workers Strike in Memphis and other events leading up to King’s murder.

The film makes use of various formats of material from the Sanitation Workers Strike Collection in the Libraries’ Special Collections Department.

Under the direction of Professor David Yellin of the Department of Speech and Drama, a group of concerned citizens, including many U of M faculty and staff, began collecting documents and other materials related to the dispute between the striking sanitation workers and city officials. After King’s murder, they branched out and began soliciting outtake and broadcast footage of the events of early 1968 from TV networks and local affiliates. They also conducted oral interviews with participants and well-placed observers, including a few strikers, most of the local and AFSCME union leaders, community leaders, Memphis Mayor Henry Loeb and his assistants, and members of the Memphis City Council. About 150 individuals were interviewed.

The Assassination Tapes uses coverage of various marches, press conferences held by King and public statements from Loeb. The show also makes use of still photos from the Strike Collection as well as from the Memphis Press-Scimitar files.

“This production is the most visible, and probably the most significant, use of these materials in recent years,” said Ed Frank, curator of Special Collections. “While other shows have featured brief snippets from the collection, often used as background or illustrations in conjunction with narration or talking-head experts, this one creates a ‘you are there’ experience. It exposes all the moment-to-moment confusion and official disarray that quickly became fertile ground for conspiracy theorizing and second-guessing about the most famous murder ever to take place in Memphis.”

Jennings said the documentary would not have been possible without the cooperation of the U of M and its Special Collections Department. “Since most of the local news stations no longer have their footage from that time, we were thrilled when we discovered such a vast archive housed at the University,” he said. “Curator Ed Frank and his staff worked long hours with us to make sure we had the footage needed to make the film a reality. This project was truly a labor of love – piecing together dozens of hours of footage from the University’s archives into a solid story. I will always be extremely grateful for the assistance that Ed and his team provided for us.”

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