|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)
Thursday, September 15, 2016
The Invaders hope to set the record straight in new documentary
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.