Interviewer: Paul Steckler
Production Team: D
Interview Date: October 17, 1988
Camera Rolls: 4008-4009
Sound Rolls: 401-402
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Taylor Rogers, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on October 17, 1988, for Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965 to 1985. Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of Eyes on the Prize.
I want you to think back to that first night, I guess it was a Sunday night. What was that, how did the strike start? What was that first meeting like?
Our first meeting was, you know, we was all concerned, we wanted to keep our jobs but we wanted some dignity, some decency out of it and, you know, we had tried and tried and T.O. Jones our president had talked and talked and did everything that he could to get the boss to try to see some of our grievances. Ah, we couldn't get anything done so we all met that Sunday night, and T.O. Jones decided to go up and talk to Blackburn who was the director and, ah, he couldn't get anything out of those people. And he came back and told us and that's when we decided we just wasn't going to take any more. And then the next morning there wasn't no work. And we, instead of meeting at our respective work places we met at this Firestone Rubber Hall Union on Firestone and we marched from there to City Hall where we talked with Henry Loeb and he was talking about his open door policies, "You don't need no union. I'll take care of you." We said back to him that, you know, "You haven't taken care, we don't want you to take care, all we want you to do is give us some decent dignity and some rights," you know. We didn't have any rights at all. The boss, whatever the boss said, that's what we had to do. We had no input in, in the working conditions or nothing. You know, whatever he said, that's what had to happen. Ah, and so we just got tired and, ah, you know had to work in the rain and that was one of the, really the main thing that, really set off the strike was that they wanted us to go out and work in the rain. And we decided we weren't going to go anymore. And then when we had our last meeting, when we had that meeting and all of that was in there and that was really what we were talking about and they wouldn't give us nothing on that so we just said we weren't going to take it anymore.
You told me over the phone about making a decision to stand up. What did you mean by that?
Oh, well, we made that decision, that's, that's when the word came out, "I'm a man." We decided that you know, if you keep your back bent somebody can ride it. But if you stand up they have to get off your back. So we decided we was going to be men, to stand up and be men. And that's what we did. Thirteen hundred men decided that they was tired and weren't going to take anymore.**
Why don't we stop for a second. How are we doing on--
You were at Dr. King's mountaintop speech. What stands out about that night?
Well, uh, his speech was really... You could tell that he felt that something was going to happen to him. You know, maybe not the next day but he know in the future something was going to happen to him because he said, you know, "I've seen the promised land. I might not get there with you." You know, and then he said that, uh, uh, uh, longevity have a lo--have a, a place but you know, he--you know, that brought out a lot of feelings among the crowd. You could hear the roars of the crowd. And I believe that night it was really s--a stormy night on the outside. And Mason Temple was jammed. It was s--standing room only. Ah, it was just a, you know, it was just a night, and that speech, it just brought the crowd to their feet. And everybody had, had the feeling that he felt that probably that would be his last speech. Ah, and that's you know, what, I can always remember that part of the speech. I had, like I say, I had my kids with me, again, uh, my wife and my kids and you know, we was all concerned because needs, I needs to go back to work.
We done with that roll?
You know, thinking about the strike, and thinking about what you guys were risking, you know, you personally must have been risking a lot.
Well I was, I mean, I have seven kids in school at the time trying to educate my kids and trying to buy a home, ah, It was just, it was really rough but I know that something had to happen. That we couldn't continue on making a dollar, four cent an hour.**. You know, we just couldn't, couldn't continue on with that with no benefits, ah, and I saw and knew what the union could do for us. And we had some people there who started going back in before that last, before Dr. King was assassinated. We had people going back in. But after that, those people came out and in a couple of days the strike was over. They, you know they put pressure on Henry Loeb after the King got killed. They put pressure on Henry Loeb to recognize the union.
How did the community come together to help you?
With money. Raised money. They did everything.
Can I, can I knock you for one second, just, when you say this, tell us how the community did, so that when I say "How did the community help you?" just say that the community did this as opposed to... How did the community help you?
Well the community raised money, ah, and anything that they thought that we needed and then the ministers got involved and, and everybody just got involved. I know, we had meetings at Mason Temple, we could, pass around garbage can, give garbage cans of money. And that money went to help the strikers to try to keep those, keep them encouraged to stay out and give them a little money to take home to their families and have food. Over at Clayborn Temple we had food that people could go around to get to feed their families and the international union sent money and money came in from all over the country so that we could survive.
Okay, I want you to think back. There you are with your two young sons on that march that Dr. King led. What did you see? What did you do?
Well, we really couldn't do anything but try to stay out of the way and watch what was happening. People was looting, you know, it was, and the tragic part about it, all this happened on Beale Street in the Black community part. Ah, stuff on Main Street didn't get touched hardly. But now Dr. King was at probably Main and Gayoso and when it all broke out, they just surrounded Dr. King, put him in a car, and took him, you know, just take him plum out of the, out of the picture.
You were, you were there with your sons.
Right. Okay. L--like I said, once it all broke. Then everybody started scattering. And most people was trying to get back to Clayborn Temple. Ah. And that's when we all went inside Clayborn Temple. And that's when they maced us, you know. And everybody run out and um, my car was parked down behind Mason Temple. And I got, got lost from one of my sons. And we was trying to find him so we could get to the car and leave. But, uh, everything just went haywire that day.
Can you talk specifically and tell us, you know, that you were there with your sons and then what you did when violence broke out?
Well, just like I said. We, we just started trying to take cover.
No, no, I want you to mention the fact that you were there with your two young sons and then, so tell me about you and your two young sons.
Um. I'm trying, I'm trying to get it together. Well, we was marching together.
Who was that?
Me and my young sons. And my position was to try to see that nothing happened to them, with all the window breakings and glass scattering and police car running and mace spraying. So I was trying to protect them. And they stayed with me until we got to Clayborn Temple. We went inside Clayborn Temple. That's where we kind of got busted up. Ah, then me and my other son, we tried to find him before we went to the car. But when we got to the car he was at the car. So that's when we got in the car and left.
So tell me about the march.
Okay. Well, in the march, me and my two sons, we was marching together uh, when all the glass started breaking and the noise and the police cars was running the sirens. And everybody was all confused and just running over each other.**. My concern was to try to protect my two sons, to get them back to Clayborn Temple. And when we did get back to Clayborn Temple, got inside of Clayborn Temple, they started putting gas in Clayborn Temple. Me and one of my, one of my sons got lost from, from us and we start looking for him. And when we come outside the police was still out and we looked out to catch a chance to get to the car. Well, and another thing come to mind. Some guy throwed a brick at the police. And that created another disturbance so we had to go back inside. And we were still concerned about my son, the, that was, wasn't with us. So when things finally quieted down we went and looked out the door again. And we finally got a chance to run out the door. Ah, when we got to the car he was at the car. And we got in the car and left and came home.
One last thing I want to ask you. The march ends, and ends in violence and Dr. King leaves.
Thinking back to that march, it must have been an awful day and then King leaves. Did you have any doubts that Martin King would come back to Memphis?
Well, my first thought was that he would come back. 'Cause I don't think the march was really organized like he would want it to be organized. And when we did get the word that he was coming back, uh, then he was talking about marshals. And he want, wanted organized to keep those people that was interrupting to keep them out of the march. And I felt for sure he had to come back to show that, to ensure people that he was nonviolent because the whole idea of disrupting the march was to make Dr. King look bad. And to say that you know, wherever he goes violence would break out. So I was sure that Dr. King was coming back. And, um, we got the word and we start organize and getting people together so we'd have the march properly organized. And, and you know. So he never did get a chance to do that march.
So Dr. King had something to prove? What was it?
That he was nonviolent.
Start by saying, what do you think Dr. King had to prove by coming back?
Dr. King had to prove that he was nonviolent. In my opinion.
Was it that he was nonviolent or that nonviolence could work?
Well, that nonviolence could work.
So what did Dr. King have to prove? Saying now Dr. King.
Dr. King had to prove that nonviolence really worked. And he came back, he came back to have a peaceful march. But that march, well, the evening that he got assassinated I think the march was supposed to be the next day.
Is there anything else that's, that you want to tell us about that stands out about this whole strike before Dr. King died?
Well, you know, I, the, the main thing really is, is the courage of the men. They had the courage to stay out because it was difficult for us to try to live with what we were getting from the community and what we were getting from the unions, to try to make end meet for our family. I think it was outstanding of those men to stand out and stand up and be men as they did.