Tom Lee - A Memphis Hero

Amnesty International USA

 

Amnesty International is working with the National Civil Rights Museum, AFSCME Local 1733, the Memphis chapter of the NAACP, Southwest Tennessee Community College and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to produce a community event honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at Tom Lee Park on Sunday, November 2nd from 2 - 5pm.  I am writing today to seek your permission to use Tom Lee's name in honoring local human rights heroes.

 

The Sunday event will include a brief ceremony honoring local civil and economic rights champions. We want to present these recognitions at the Tom Lee tribute sculpture. This will be followed by speeches by Bruce Jett of AFSCME, Larry Cox of Amnesty, Congressman Cohen and other voices, music sung by local choirs, passages from Dr. King's speeches read by local children and youth, and an aerial art event in which hundreds or even thousands of people will form up into an artist's rendering of Dr. King with his arm extended and the words, "Keep the Dream Alive." The image will be photographed from a helicopter and all participants who register with their e-mail addresses will receive the photograph electronically within a few days.

 

Amnesty's impetus for these programs is that in addition to marking the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we are planning our first ever campaign for economic rights, called the Dignity Campaign, for 2009 and beyond. Some of the issues we'll be addressing, like housing rights for displaced persons and maternal mortality, which afflicts African American women in alarming numbers, have special significance in Shelby County. For that reason, and to honor Dr. King's leadership and vision in trying to forge an alliance among civil rights, international human rights and labor rights movements, we have chosen Memphis as the community where we will announce our Dignity Campaign and link arms with the organizations already doing critically important work in the field.

 

The Sunday gathering is part of 3 days of activities including Amnesty International's Southern Regional Conference, bringing hundreds of student and community activists from all over the South to First Congo October 31 - November 2. Among other speakers, the conference features William Lucy, Executive Secretary of AFSCME who was a leader in the sanitation workers strike in 1968 that brought Dr. King to Memphis in solidarity. Also speaking is Carol Anderson, author of "Eyes Off the Prize," exposing the historic rift between the human rights and labor rights movement.

 

Together with Rev. Lennox Yearwood and the Hip Hop Caucus, we are producing a concert Saturday night November 1st at a venue to be determined.

 

For the aerial art event, we are partnering with Circle Up Now. To see an example of their outstanding work, please look at www.CircleUpNow.org and click on the images they recently created in South Africa in honor of Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday.

 

Clarence Christian of Southwest, Gwen Harmon of the National Civil Rights Museum, Johnnie Turner of the NAACP, Rev. Dwight Montgomery of SCLC and Bruce Jett of AFSCME comprise our Circle of Advisors, who will select those who should be formally recognized at the event for keeping the dream of justice and equality alive in Memphis over the past 40 years or more.

 

The criteria for choosing what we hope to call the "Tom Lee Recognitions" are as follows:

 

1.    The person has made a significant contribution to human rights, either civil rights or economic rights or both, in the Tri-State area over the past 40 years.

2.    The person may be well known, but is either still underappreciated in his/her own community or not as widely appreciated as s/he should be in the nation.

3.    The person's life should in some way embody the Tom Lee inspiration -- an ordinary person who does the extraordinary for others s/he may not even know, as one human being for another (like the Good Samaritan on Jericho Road, from the Bible and Dr. King's Memphis speech). "Ordinary" does not exclude people with exceptional gifts. The term is meant to exclude only those whose position of privilege -- more than personal courage, compassion and solidarity -- made their accomplishments possible.

 

As an example, Amnesty International USA has nominated Ernest C. Withers, the great photographer whose works chronicled the civil rights struggle in Memphis, but whose inspiring life, including his service as one of the first nine African Americans serving as police officers in Shelby County, is less well known than his famous pictures.

 

We would like to bestow a plaque with our organizations' names and a brief testimonial line recognizing the honoree's contribution under a photo of the beautiful Tom Lee sculpture and the words, "Tom Lee Recognition." We would also publicize the honorees and the story of Tom Lee on all our websites.

 

Please let us know as soon as possible if this proposal meets with your approval. We would be most honored if we could be part of communicating Tom Lee's selfless, heroic and inspiring action as widely as possible. We believe it is acts of courage and kindness like his, as much as mass protests and advocacy, court cases and historic decisions, that move history in the direction of equality and justice.

 

Adiyah Ali, our Field Organizer for the Mid-South, who works in our Atlanta office and is our project leader for the Memphis events, will follow up by telephone. Thank you very much for considering this request.

 

Best wishes,

David Hinkley

Amnesty International USA

 

 **************