Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Invaders hope to set the record straight in new documentary

The Invaders: Dolores Jordan Briggs (left), Jabril Jabez, Minister Shukhara Yahweh,
Charles B. Smith, Dr. David Acey, Dr. Coby Smith and Juanita Thornton. (Photo by Wiley Henry) 
For nearly 50 years, several members of a 60s-era radical group from South Memphis have tried to debunk the tall tell that they’d instigated the riot that broke out during the first march that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led in March of 1968 in support of the striking sanitation workers.
“I’m happy that Memphis to some extent has decided to embraced us,” said John B. Smith, a founding member of The Invaders, a militant group of college students, Vietnam-era veterans, musicians and intellectuals espousing Black Power.
Smith, who lives in Atlanta, was in Memphis on Sept. 7 for the private viewing of a feature-length documentary about The Invaders as told by some of the members along with never-before-seen film footage and photographs from various archives.
“The general opinion is that we started the riot. Now we’re able to show people the documentary and what actually happened,” said Smith, who reconnected with some of the Invaders at Collins Chapel CME Church, site of the private viewing.
The viewing of the documentary coincided with the church’s 175th anniversary and the 101st birthday of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), a nationwide organization founded by Carter G. Woodson, the “father” of Black History Month.
“We are about African-American history,” said Clarence Christian, president of the Memphis Area Branch of ASALH, which studies, researches and disseminates local history in the community. Chapters nationwide also research, preserve and interpret Black life, history and culture.
The local chapter hosted the documentary, which began as a classroom project, said Christian, who told the story of J.B. Horrell, a guitarist and former student who wanted to write about something that no one had ever written about before.
“So I suggested the Invaders,” said Christian. “Then I introduced him to Minister Shukhara Yahweh (a.k.a. Lance “Sweet Willie Wine” Watson), a former Invader.” Horrell made the connection, and from that first contact with Yahweh, he would go on to co-write and produce “The Invaders” documentary.
“I was fascinated with the Invaders,” said Horrell, who was present to tell the diverse audience of activists, educators and civic leaders that he’d learned a lot about social and political upheaval in the ‘60s in large part due to the Invaders project.
“This is public vindication,” said Smith, who speaks quite a few times in the 76-minute film. “Not only is it vindication, it’s an opportunity to present Dr. King from another standpoint. He was not the meek, timid individual the media has presented him to be over the years.”
  Smith shared the spotlight in the film with fellow Invaders Charles Cabbage, Calvin Taylor, Juanita Thornton, Dr. Coby Smith, Willie Henry and others. They paint a riveting picture of the civil rights movement while juxtaposing it against the non-violent principles espoused by Dr. King.
The sanitation workers’ strike drew Dr. King to Memphis. But the Invaders were already on the ground trying to strengthen the strikers’ position by attempting to stop garbage trucks from rolling into the neighborhoods. When the riot broke out, the Invaders were blamed.
Dr. King vowed to return to Memphis to finish the march peacefully. The resolution the Invaders sought for the plight of the sanitation workers differed from Dr. King’s, who mutually agreed to work with the militant group after meeting with them on April 4, 1968.
The Invaders were looking for funding for their “community unification program.” Dr. King agreed to help, said Smith, if they would serve as marshals for the Poor People’s Campaign in Memphis. They agreed.
“We met two times on April 4,” said Smith, noting that Dr. King was evolving in his tactics. “He wanted to hook up all the power groups around the country. This is what we talked about in that meeting, which would demonstrate that Black people were together all over the country.”
The last meeting ended at 5:30 p.m. At 6:05 p.m., an assassin’s bullet fell Dr. King.

Friday, September 9, 2016

There’s no denying the success of The Southern Heritage Classic

Looking back more than two decades ago, Fred Jones Jr. recalls the day he took a leap of faith – and a long with that leap a combination of moxie and aptitude – to create, package and brand the Southern Heritage Classic as one of Memphis’ biggest sports/entertainment venues.  
“I had no track record in producing an event like this in Memphis, even though I was traveling all over the country participating in events already,” said Jones, who started out as an entertainment promoter. Even the “city fathers did not believe I could pull the Classic off.”
Fred Jones Jr.
And since rivals Tennessee State University (TSU) and Jackson State University (JSU) were part of the equation, Jones had to convince the administration at both schools that he knew what he was doing. It was a tough sell, he said, even though the schools’ athletic directors were on board, but believed the game should be played on the gridiron in Memphis.
Twenty-seven years later, the two HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) will romp the gridiron once again on Saturday, Sept. 10 at 6 p.m. before an expected 50,000-plus Classic fans cheering on their favorite team, or alma mater, at the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
The football game is the Classic’s signature event. However, prior to the kickoff, fans will be privy to other classic events over the course of three days – Sept. 8-10 – which includes two star-studded concerts, a parade, a fashion show, a golf tournament, and tailgating.
“You never know where anything will go,” said Jones, who was determined to see his idea come to fruition and to prove his naysayers wrong. “To get to 27 [years] is mission accomplish.”
In terms of corporate support, community involvement, government participation, and monetary value, what Jones has accomplished since the onset is tantamount to reaching the summit, a word he uses in the name of his company, Summit Management Corporation.
“As you track us over these first 26 years, the level of participation from corporate has increased,” said Jones, noting that FedEx has been a presenting sponsor for more than 20 years. “You can see the level of participation and the quality of our presentation.”
TSU and JSU can count on a payday of $325,000 apiece for their participation. The city of Memphis is reaping benefits as well, as residuals continue to be added to the coffers ever since Jones transformed a two-dimensional idea into an entertainment reality.
“You can’t deny the success of the Classic,” he said. “You can’t deny how the community feels about the event. You can’t deny that this is a quality event that has an impact on the community in many ways. The impact and the numbers are very clear.”
Jones said the combined total has been $10 million dollars over the course of the Classic. “But when you look at the numbers, the tale of the tape, it speaks volumes. Every survey that’s been done – the last one was two years ago – indicated that there’s a $21 million impact on the city of Memphis.”
But some people still think the “glass slippers will slip off any moment,” said Jones, who doesn’t entertain negatives. In fact, he has a contract with both schools through 2019. “We had preliminary discussions about going forward up to 2024. It’s an ongoing process.”
The enthusiasm for the Classic hasn’t waned over the years, which is good news to Jones, who intends to quarterback the Classic for years to come. Then he’ll toss it to someone who’ll take it farther than where he’s been able to take it.
“It [Classic] was built to get to 27, to 50 [years],” said Jones, noting that his son, Nathanial Jones, is “very capable” of stepping in and keeping the event going. “I want the event to go on forever. It will go on as long as there is support for the event from fans, the government, and corporate.”
If there is a barometer for Jones’ success, it is this: “As long as the people are giving me clear indications that they are satisfied with the work that we’re doing, we’ll be good.”
For more information, visit or call the Summit Management Corporation at (901) 398-6655 or 1-800-332-1991.