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An Iconic Civil Rights Site is Being Reborn

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In 1893, construction of the building now known as Clayborn Temple was completed by Second Presbyterian Church. At the time it was the largest church building south of the Ohio River. Second Presbyterian Church continued worshipping in the building on Hernando Street for more than 50 years before moving to a new location, at which time the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) purchased the building and moved in christening it as Clayborn Temple, named for AME Bishop Jim Clayborn.

Bishop W.F. Ball

Bishop W.F. Ball

During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, Clayborn Temple served as a meeting place and organizational hub for planning and strategizing efforts for racial equality within Memphis. It is perhaps best known for its place in the Sanitation Workers’ Strike in 1968. It was at Clayborn Temple that protestors assembled to begin their march. It was here that the famous “I Am a Man” signs were distributed.

Photo: Lauren Berry

Photo: Lauren Berry

The AME congregation continued worshipping in Clayborn Temple until it moved away from downtown and the building became vacant in 1999.

After more than 25 years a new vision has emerged to see Clayborn Temple reborn in a way that honors its past in the Civil Rights Movement as it looks forward to charting a new future.

In the video above, we talked with Elaine Turner, who grew up going to church at Clayborn, who was active in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s, and who now owns Heritage Tours which offices in a building next door to Clayborn Temple.

We also talked about the vision for what Clayborn may be going forward with Bertram Williams, Jr., a music producer and cultural planner, who is involved with programming the space currently.

According to claybornreborn.org:

“The future of Clayborn Temple is evolving every day, and we need your input in helping us shape the new life of this historic property. Please come to Clayborn Temple to write on our suggestion wall or send comments to dream@claybornreborn.org.

We do know a few things, and we’re learning more as we go:

We are dedicated to creating a place that honors the unique history of this site and the people who worked, worshipped, and organized here.

We are dedicated to creating a place that responds respectfully to Memphis’ growth and evolution, particularly the changes coming to our immediate neighborhood.”

Follow Clayborn Temple on Facebook for more information and upcoming events.

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