On the wall in Grizzlies coach David Fizdale’s office. His grandparents met in the war. Photo by Wendi C. Thomas

One set of grandparents met during World War II. His other grandfather escaped the Jim Crow South only to face racial discrimination as a sanitation worker in Los Angeles.

And so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Grizzlies coach David Fizdale has strong feelings about racism and bigotry and what is required of those who abhor both.

YouTube video

In an impromptu conversation Tuesday afternoon in his office at the FedEx Forum, Fizdale spoke candidly about his family’s past, the city’s future and what his obligation is as the NBA coach in the city where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed nearly 50 years ago.

CNN was on the TV and the past weekend’s white supremacist rallies and deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia was on his mind.

“Fifty years later (Martin Luther King Jr.) is speaking to us from the grave and telling us to stand up to this crap that we’re seeing, that’s festering in our country, that our president has seemed to deem OK,” Fizdale said.

We’d been introduced so I could tell him about MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, the yearlong, nonprofit reporting project on economic justice I started after a 2016 Nieman fellowship at Harvard University and 11 years as a columnist for The Commercial Appeal.

A longtime Grizzlies fan (and season ticket holder with my dad), I hoped to get Fizdale’s support for the project, which is timed to the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and is in partnership with the National Civil Rights Museum.

I left with his support and an even deeper respect for the head coach. Fizdale is well aware, as am I, of what happens when black athletes speak up on social issues (see Kaepernick, Colin), but he had something to say and he wanted to say it.

His grandparents and Dr. King would be proud.

Here’s part of Commercial Appeal columnist Geoff Calkins’ transcription of the video I posted earlier today on Periscope.

On Memphis’ Confederate monuments

“Take ’em down (the monuments). I don’t know what the hesitation is, I don’t know what we’re waiting on. . . Whatever gets those things down immediately, we got to do it. It splits people apart. It creates a public safety hazard having that thing in our city. The fact that Dr. King was killed here 50 years ago, and that the Civil Rights Museum sits here in our city, and for that to be out in the open, hanging out, where kids go, where families go, I don’t want that in our city any more. . . . But for that to sit out there in the wide open in our city I think is a disgrace. And to our public officials, I’m challenging you to not put a bunch of red tape in front of us, don’t create all these silly loops holes, and this and that, take it down, get it out of our city, get it out of sight, and let our city move forward and into the future and be an example to the rest of the country of where the worst thing ever in civil rights history, our greatest leader, was murdered here. But we’re going to start here to build and grow great relationships between all races right here in Memphis.”

This report is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit reporting project on economic justice in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today.