Dozens of the 1,000-plus residents who claimed the I-40 bridge in July 2016 link arms to cease traffic in both directions, cutting off a primary path of interstate travel. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50. 

It’s been five years since protestors flooded the streets of downtown Memphis and took all six lanes of the Interstate-40 bridge. The protest formed days after two Black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile,  were killed by police officers in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis. 

Protestors moved from the National Civil Rights Museum to FedExForum before overtaking the bridge. Law enforcement officers showed up in riot gear, but the protest continued for several hours before ending with a promise of a meeting with elected officials. 

That public meeting was a disaster. Community members spoke of poverty, the need for opportunity, and the need for police reform. The city’s response was lackluster. And in the years that have followed, not much has really changed. 

As we mark the anniversary of the largest act of civil disobedience in Memphis in recent memory, here are stories that provide context and insight from those who were there.

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 these generous donors.

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