Black protester holding up fist while walking down street
Photos by Andrea Morales

On Sunday, July 10, four years ago, protesters created the most significant act of spontaneous civil disobedience in recent memory. They flooded Memphis streets, heading over a bridge that spans the Mississippi River’s rushing waters.

Days after white police officers gunned down Alton Sterling, a Black man in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile, a Black man in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota, Memphians gathered to demand more from their city with its own history of state-sanctioned police violence.

The protest, which started in downtown Memphis and took the Interstate-55 bridge, drew law enforcement in riot gear and ended several hours later with promise for a community meeting with elected officials the next day.

At the meeting, the community expressed its need for support in its struggles against poverty and in its search for opportunity while directly addressing the overly punitive and often violent approaches to policing.

The list of demands that were brought to the table in 2016 were not that different from the demands protesters made while occupying the plaza outside of City Hall this month, following the May killing of George Floyd, who was Black, by a white Minneapolis police officer.

Over the next few days on Instagram, MLK50: Justice Through Journalism will revisit photos of monumental protests in Memphis, connecting the dots to this summer’s uprising against police violence. Follow MLK50 on Instagram to join the conversation.

Protesters stand shoulder to shoulder along road at night

Andrea Morales is the visuals director for MLK50: Justice Through Journalism. Email her at

This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit newsroom focused on poverty, power and policy in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by the Surdna Foundation, the Racial Equity in Journalism Fund at Borealis Philanthropy, the Southern Documentary Project at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, the American Journalism Project, the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, and Community Change.

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