Behind the Headlines – April 6, 2018

– (female announcer)
Production funding for Behind the Headlines is made possible in part by: The WKNO Production Fund, The WKNO Endowment Fund, and by viewers like you.
Thank you. – A look at MLK 50,
a possible new arena at Graceland,
and much more, tonight, on
Behind the Headlines. [dramatic orchestral music] I’m Eric Barnes, publisher of The Memphis Daily News,
thanks for joining us. I’m joined tonight by Chris
Davis, with the Memphis Flyer, Laura Faith Kebede,
with Chalkbeat, along with Bill Dries, senior reporter with
the Memphis Daily News. So we had
scheduled this roundtable, we’re recording
this Friday morning, and there’s still MLK 50
things going on, but I guess we’ll start
with, for each of you, impressions of
the week that was. And Bill, you covered as much
as could possibly be covered. What did you think? – I think it was
a big moment for the city in a lot of respects. Some of this is the face that
we show to the outside world, which we’re very
concerned about, but I think a more significant
part of this was the discussion among ourselves
about how far we are from 1968 in terms of progress,
and what 1968 has meant for how we got
to where we are today. – And, Chris,
again, your impressions. – I agree a lot
with what Bill said, and you know, I spent a lot of
time hearing about how far we aren’t from 1968 too, and a
lot of re-dedication to the principles of 1968 and beyond,
which I think is important. – And Laura, again,
impressions from the week? – Well what we focused on was
being able to understand what teachers and students
at the time thought. Teachers are often the first
people to help students process what’s going on in the world,
so we talked to teachers and students who were
alive at the time, and what their impressions
were, and also looked at numbers regarding
segregation in Memphis, and from 1971 to now, 40% of
schools were 90% or more black, and today that is a
little bit over 50%. – Yeah. And in truth, we
had Terri Freeman, the head of the
Civil Rights Museum on, a couple weeks ago talking
about their poverty report, and focusing a lot on the
issues of poverty in Memphis. But it was
interesting too, again, she said most of these numbers
are true across the country. And it’s been interesting, I
was out of town for most of the week, but it was interesting
to see national coverage a bit, you know, a reporter
saying, “I’m here in Memphis, where the poverty
rate is X and Y”, and Terri Freeman was quick to
point out that these numbers are pretty true across the country,
maybe moreso in Memphis, but it’s not as if some other
areas of the country and figured it all out. Bill, you told a
story about James Lawson, tell us about that moment. – James Lawson
is a seminal figure in The Civil Rights movement. In terms of being an architect
and really explaining an implementing the philosophy of
non-violent social resistance, what Ghandi called “Soul Force”. And he talks about that a lot. And of course, he doesn’t like
the term Civil Rights movement, he thinks that it ought to be
about what the goals of the movement are, and
that is avoiding war, avoiding violence,
and replacing that in how we think about just
about everything. So he is at,
in 1968, he was the Pastor at Centenary United
Methodist Church in south Memphis. And he was at the
I Am A Man Plaza Dedication, which is a plaza that pays
tribute to the 1300 sanitation workers who struck in 1968,
and he was at that event, he was at several other
events, but at this event, he was walking around
like everyone else, kind of taking in the plaza,
and was walking around the centerpiece, which is bronze
and stainless steel, “I Am A Man”,
the four words that came to symbolize the strike. And so he’s looking at
it, and his head is down, and you think maybe he’s
contemplating the moment, until you realize that a quote
that he made during the strike is at the base of the monument,
so he’s kind of checking out his quote to make sure
it’s right I guess, at the base of the monument. – Yeah, and Chris,
you also had mentioned, one of the many things you
cover for The Flyer are arts and entertainment, and
Clayborn Temple, and all that’s
happened with that. – Yeah, you know, since they’ve
been staging this comeback, and this
revitalization over there, they’ve really been wanting to
focus on their own identity and their place within this history,
and tell that story to other people in as many
ways as possible. And as a part of that they’ve
been working to develop a broadway style musical
called “Union” that’s about the sanitation workers strike. And they’re about to start
previewing a lot of that. It’s not the
complete production, but I think it’s
maybe nine songs, nine numbers, as a
part of the MLK 50, they’re just beginning to
start rolling that out. But it’s just been, it’s been
remarkable to see this place come back and to also re-assert
itself as a locus of activity for, not things, not be focused
on things that happened in the past, but kind of really try
and build these connections and these bridges between the things
that happened in the past and the things that
need to happen now. – Thinking about Clayborn and,
there was a magazine in town, a kind of a social magazine,
socialite sort of magazine, fashion magazine, that did a
photo shoot in Clayborn Temple. Did anybody else see that? It’s free, it’s in For
Memphis, it’s beautifully done. But I had a lot–
– There’ve been some music videos down there as well.
– Is that right? And it is an
interesting thing, where these places that
are kind of sacred ground, and Clayborn was
closed for how many years? – Almost 20. – Almost 20, and now
has been re-opened. And you look at
this photo shoot, and I don’t know if
anyone has a thought on this, I really struggled with it. I had a conversation with a
number of other journalists about “is that appropriate”. It was beautifully done, and
it’s wonderful to see this place get re-opened and
kind of celebrated. But at a time when
it’s just a photo shoot, and we’re talking
about this incredible, you know, legacy issues
of race, and of poverty, and of the Civil
Rights Movement. You know what I mean?
What do you think? It’s a tough one. – I think those
things are what they do. If it just
introduces the Temple, and the idea of the Temple
in a way that is attractive, and makes people interested
in what’s happening there, I don’t really see any harm. It doesn’t seem like
any great sacrilege to, because they are wanting it to
be a place where people come together to do all
sorts of different things. It is a locus for
activity for the future, not just… – And that’s always been
what the church has been about, I’ve been a reporter since 1975,
was in the church dozens of times before it was basically
shuttered and locked up for a number of years,
and I can tell you, I was in that church
when it was an AME Church, for any number of things, including probably
a few fashion shows. You know music,
political statements, in addition to being
a center of activity along with Monumental Baptist Church, every
April 4th for the Commemoration. So, in Clayborn’s case,
it really does fit in with the wide variety
of uses that the church has had
at least since 1968. – I’ll come back to you Laura,
obviously with Chalkbeat you focus on education, your
stories run in our paper, and other places. How, we talked
a little bit before the show that it’s interesting, this
50th anniversary there have been marches,
there’ve been sort of planned marches as part of MLK 50,
some that were unplanned, and nationally right now, there’s a whole
movement among students, in reaction to the
Parkland shooting, and other gun violence incidents
of activism among students. There’s a national walkout
that’s being talked about that Dorsey Hopson, the Shelby
County Schools Superintendent, your thoughts of where students
are now in terms of their activism in light of
this 50th anniversary. – I think what’s really
been interesting is that these students have been very
intentional about not just addressing mass shootings
that get a lot of attention, but also talking about any
gun violence in the city, and really trying to give voice
to a diverse group of students, and their experiences
with violence in Memphis. So that’s been really
fascinating to see, and there’s going to be several
walk-outs in high schools on April 19th, which is the day
before the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High
School shooting. – 19 years. Wow, wow. More on some of
the specific events, and specific things
that have happened, there’s a marker, a
Forrest marker that went up? – Yes, Calvary Episcopal Church
now owns what is a parking lot at the corner of B.B. King
Boulevard and Adams Avenue. And it’s had a Shelby County
Historical Commission marker since 1955 that mentions this is
where Nathan Bedford Forrest’s home before the Civil War was. And it talks about in
general his business interests. And it never mentions that,
in addition to being his home, this lot, what’s
now a parking lot, was the site of
his slave market. Where thousands of people
were bought and sold over… about maybe a
four-or-five year period that made him tremendously wealthy. Well, Calvary recently bought
the parking lot from the city as part of its footprint there, and
Rhodes College did some research in the Shelby County archives,
and found bills-of-sale for people, men, women,
and children who were bought and sold at
Forrest’s slave market. So along with the
National Parks Service, Rhodes College and Calvary
put up a new marker that is all about the slave trade that
took place on this plot of land. It’s kind of answer
to the 1955 marker. The 1955 marker is
still there, and notably, this new marker
was done without the Shelby County
Historical Commission, or the Tennessee
Historical Commission. Which is a trend that
we’ve seen now with the marker in the south downtown area
that talks about the massacre of 1866,
as well as the Ell Persons lynching
marker off of Summer Avenue. – Let’s also just mention the
Universal Life building opening, this is more than just a
regular real estate story, that an old building
has been renovated, and we sometimes touch on those,
we certainly write about those, but this one has
more significance. – Yes, Universal Life,
founded in the 1920’s by Dr. J. Walker,
what was the hub of black commerce
in the era of Jim Crow, racial segregation by law, and
that segregation enforced by law enforcement, and
all the powers that be. Dr. Walker created this
insurance company which gave rise to Tri-State Bank, it gave
rise to basically black business in Memphis in very
hard, hard times. And now that
building has been restored, it will be part of the city’s
business development center, which pursues
the city’s goal of growing black economic
power and strength. It will also have private
business tenants as well. And the building is a grand
Egyptian-style building, right there during its prime it
looked like something off of the set of the movie
“Double Indemnity” if you’re familiar with that, and a lot of that has
been preserved in it. – It’s interesting, it’s
located, anyone who has gone to a Grizzlies game,
or Tigers game, or a big event at the Forum, you’ve driven by it probably.
If you’ve come in that way. And that whole area,
which parallels Vance Avenue, which used to be home to much
of the middle and upper-middle class African-American families,
and it was decimated by Crump and others, there’s
re-development all around there. So much so that we joked around
before that The Flyer moved. The Flyer has been
in the same place, the south Front area forever. And all that area which
was hit so hard in the, before the ’70s and
certainly in the ’70s, we were joking before that you
all have moved offices in part because they want to turn
your old office into condos. In fact you were the
only tenant down there. – We were practically. Well, you know, there
were other folks down there, but in fact, when I first
moved into the building on Tennessee Street,
we shared that building with some other businesses. But yeah, the Bluff
used to be empty, there was an old recording
studio with a porch on it that looked like a shack. My wife and I actually inquired
into purchasing that shack at one point, thinking we
might get it for a song, because who wants that, this is
like the minute before it starts coming back so our offer
wasn’t taken very seriously. – Segue to some other, maybe
we’ll come back to some of those things, but, what, Laura,
in education right now, what kind of things
are you covering? There’s always a
huge amount going on, what’s happening? – Well, recently getting back
to talking about honoring Dr. King’s legacy,
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson recently announced
that he would raise wages for full-time employees
to $15 an hour. Many of those
who were below that threshold were pretty close to it. But he cited what Dr. King
had mentioned of the crime of working a full-time job and
not having a liveable wage, and so that is something
that has happened recently. – And then Charter
School applications are due at this time,
is that correct? – Yes, and there are
ten applications in, and nine of those schools, well
one applicant has nine schools, which is New Day schools,
which is hoping to convert the soon-to-be former
Jubliee Schools network into Charter schools after
private school vouchers failed in the Tennesse Legislature. – And this is John Smarrelli.
the President of CBU, is part of this initiative,
is that right? We had John Smarrelli on
in the last month or so. – Yes. – And CBU has been involved
in Maxine Smith STEAM Academy, which I think by most,
if not all accounts, has been highly successful,
and they’re also involved in the Crosstown School, is that right? – Mmmhmm
– I will, I’m going to bounce away from you and come
over to Bill, there was some news this week at one of the
events, the MLK 50 events, former city mayor,
Willie Herenton, announced that he’s
going to run for mayor again. – Yes, in 2019.
He was speaking at LeMoyne-Owen College, and he talked about the past,
and his own participation in the marches in 1968, and then said
that he wants to do it again. He wants to come
back and be mayor, and he will be running in 2019. – Is he not, one
logistical question, is he not termed out?
How does that work? – He is not termed out,
the term limits took effect, and the clock started running
on them in the City Charter, after he had left
in July of 2009. And so the clock started with
those who were elected in 2011. In any event, even if
it had applied to him, it’s two consecutive terms,
so you can sit out a term, and then run again. – Right, and we
have all indications, although Mayor
Strickland has not declared, all indications are that he will
be running for a second term. – He intends to run for
a second term of office, and former Mayor
Herenton has said, this is nothing against him,
I just think that I’m the right man for the job, and
I’ll be running again. – And Herenton is a,
he’s a big figure, for people that don’t remember,
I mean he’s a controversial figure, he is for some people so
disliked that if you spend too much time with them, you forget
there are people for whom he is beloved, and is viewed as the
first African-American mayor, with an incredible
history, who was tough talking, and didn’t take
anything from anyone. So he’s a very, I don’t
want to say he’s divisive, ’cause that’s
pejorative, but he, there are wide range
of opinions about him. – He’s also a landmark
figure in our politics. He was elected to five
terms as Memphis mayor. He was the longest-serving
mayor in Memphis history. – I mention him in part, what
reminded me of that is that in the last few years, he’s
been involved in education. He was originally
a school superintendent before he was mayor. He’s had Charter
Schools is that right? You’ve followed and
covered his Charter Schools? Talk about those if you will. – He does have
a network of Charter Schools here in the city. And most recently under the
Shelby County Schools new process for evaluating
those Charter Schools, three of them are on the
chopping block potentially, to close if they don’t
improve in the next two years. And if those same schools fall
onto the state’s priority list of the bottom 5% of
low-performing schools they will close automatically. – We’ll make
another big switch here, and Chris, you’ve been focused
on Playhouse on the Square. And the controversy there. Talk about the stories
you’ve been writing, and what’s been going on. – Well, you know it’s been
a difficult story to tell. Playhouse on the Square has been
an incredible success in the Memphis Arts Community, and has
meant a lot to the redevelopment of Midtown. And in December of last
year, there was a message posted online from a local person, who
is in fact the daughter of the founder’s first wife,
Jackie Nichols’ first wife, claiming sexual abuse begininng
when she was six years old, and continuing until
she was nine years old. Some time after that a group of
Playhouse employees went to the Board with a list of complaints
kind of built around this, saying that they needed
some kind of answers. They wanted Jackie to take
a leave until there was an investigation, and they wanted
Playhouse to look and see if there were any other things
that hadn’t come to light, or any other things going on in
the building that also needed to be investigated. – And he, you can continue, but
I just want to make sure we’re clear and fair, he has
denied all these accusations. – He’s denied, he has absolutely
denied all of the accusations, that’s true. So there was an
attorney that was appointed, Jennifer S. Hagerman of the
Burch Porter & Johnson Law Firm, she has a background
in working with clients in business circumstances. This was a good fit for her. And so, they started
looking into this, and over time, other women
came forward and spoke to the investigator, and the
investigation was concluded, and put away. They said they weren’t going to
discuss the investigation or the results of the investigation. Concurrently,
Jackie, who’s the founder, he has retired. And this is the 49th
year of the organization, they’re going
to be celebrating their 50th anniversary next year. Officially these two
things are un-connected, but the women who
came and talked to me, who spoke to the investigator,
they’re really unhappy that the results of the investigation
aren’t being discussed. – Yeah, and it’s
interesting too, these things are very difficult,
want to reiterate that Jackie Nichols has said that
these accusations are false. Separate from trying
to litigate that here, it is interesting when it’s a
kind of public institution. Playhouse on the Square is not
a publically-owned institution, I’m not implying
that, but it is, it’s a part of the community in
a way that’s different than a random insurance
company, somewhere. Or a random, all of this is part
of this national #MeToo moment, and the conversation about
how best to handle these accusations, people focus
on, well these are from, you know decades
ago, does that matter? It’s incredibly difficult. – Yeah, people do. And these
allegations that we know of, are all about events that
happened a long time ago. And they begin with
this one allegation. But then other
women come forward, and they start telling
stories at are very similar. I think the #MeToo movement,
it’s about the cumulative affect of people coming forward. And in this case,
I spoke to five women who all had stories to tell. – Yeah. We’ll switch again with
a few moments left here, Bill. The ongoing feud between Elvis
Presley Enterprises and the Grizzlies, and
the city, and EDGE, maybe, for people who
haven’t followed it closely, it all comes down to an arena. A 6-7,000 seat arena, that
Graceland would like to build, Elvis Presley Enterprises, and
that the Grizzlies who control the FedEx Forum,
one, don’t want built, and two, think
should not be built, certainly not with any
form of public money. Is that a fair summary? – Yes. And the arena most
importantly is in Whitehaven, on Graceland’s campus, or it
would be, if it’s built. That seemed to die when the
Grizzlies who run FedEx Forum for the city and county
came forward and said, “We have a non-compete agreement
with the city and county, “the city and county
can not fund the construction “of any arena that is an indoor
facility with more than 5,000 fixed seats on it.” So, Graceland
changed its plan some, this week came back to
it, and the EDGE board, which gives out the financial
incentives in this case, basically approved a plan for
a convention center with 1700 seats, and gave approval
for the arena plan too. Which is really interesting
because both of them would be built on
basically the same site, where Heartbreak Hotel is now
in the Graceland footprint. This is very
conditional approval. And as it turns out, the city of
Memphis has a problem with the arena proposal because
Graceland’s argument is, we’re not going to use a
PILOT, we’re not going to use a tax-abatement to finance this. What we want is, we
want our existing TIF, tax increment financing,
property tax revenue from the city and county that
we’re already getting, we want to increase the flow
of that money and we want to increase the flow to pay
off Guest House at Graceland, and Elvis Presley’s Memphis. With that, what we’re going to
do is we’re going to take our private money, that we’re using
to finance our part of those two existing projects, and we’re
going to apply that to building a 6,000 seat arena. And the city says, we want to
see financial statements first of all on how this might do,
how you think this might do, and second of all, we
have some really… deep suspicions that this
might violate the non-compete agreement. – Yeah, you got a
statement from Doug McGowen, the city’s Chief
Operating Officer, the COO of the city, saying
that while they’re very excited, I’m going to paraphrase here,
while they’re very excited about what Elvis Presley
Enterprises is doing, and all the investment, the city
of Memphis can not support the project as presented,
specific to the arena. And so, and the
EDGE vote was 5-3, it was very close. EDGE issues PILOTS, and
other things that are in-and-of-themselves
controversial for a lot of people, all this public
financing for the FedEx Forum, and any, the Coliseum
has been talked about, and all this is a big deal. I’m curious,
Chris, you cover arts, I don’t know if you
have thoughts on this. There are people out there
who say all Memphis needs is a 5-6,000 square foot,
6,600, not square foot, seat arena to compete with the
Landers Center down in DeSoto County, all these shows we don’t
get because we don’t have an arena that size, do you
have a feel for that? – This is a little
bit outside my area, you know, I’m looking at usually
smaller places where theater and ballet, and those
sorts of things happen, rather than concert coverage. So, I don’t know, I
don’t know what we need, what we don’t need. I do think it’s sometimes
frustrating to see a development that becomes almost a casino
style development where it keeps everybody in one place, rather
than they get out in the city, so I don’t know. That’s, that’s my thought. – We’ll leave it there. Thank you. Thank you all for being here,
and thank you for joining us. Join us again next week. [dramatic orchestral music] [acoustic guitar chords]

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