I recently went to a showing of The Duty of the Hour documentary about the life of Benjamin Hooks. Hooks was a native Memphian who had a huge impact on the Federal Communications Commission by making fundamental changes on the media for African Americans. He also eventually went on the become the president of the NAACP and made grade strides for the organization even though the organization was falling apart when he came into position.
During the documentary, one scene that caught my eye was the sanitation workers strike in Memphis during the late 1960’s. The strike was a grassroots movement that resembled many of the grassroots protests and strikes we have talked about throughout many class discussions. Just like other grassroots movements, the sanitation strike was fueled by local leadership and helped to build national momentum to test segregation. Although the strike began with local workers, people throughout the nation became aware of the strike. Even Martin Luther King Jr. knew about the strike and actually made a speech to the workers in Memphis. I was glad the documentary mentioned the local strike because of how often grassroots movements are ignored in history today.
While the movie itself was very compelling, the thing that stuck out to me the most during the event was the speech that Mayor Wharton made before the showing of the film. He talked about how not everyone can be as influential and monumental as Benjamin Hooks or Martin Luther King or Ida B Wells, but there is still a lot left undone in regards to racial equality. Specifically, Wharton explained the saying “duty of the hour,” which I found was important. He clarified “duty of the hour” as a person’s individual obligation to civil rights that should always be getting modified. He also explained that there is always going to be a need for individuals to participate in their own duties of the hour to work to lessen social injustice and discrimination in the future.
The talk by Wharton also parallels to the reoccurring class topic that the Civil Rights Movement does not actually have set beginning and ending dates in history, unlike popular assumption. Because racial inequality cannot be cured or ended with one event or law, it is important to remember what Wharton emphasized in his speech. Although times have changed and segregation is not as public as it used to be, there are still many strides forward to be made in America. There is no actual “master narrative” for the movement because discrimination is still present in every day life. For example, The KKK rally that is coming to Memphis due to the renaming of public parks is obviously fueled behind racial divides. The rally may very well result in the desire to violently retaliate the KKK, so someone’s duty of the hour could be to spread the importance of non-violent responses.
While I have constantly been thinking about my possible duties of the hour since this documentary, I challenge you to think about potential individual duties of the hour you can take to continue to work to prevent discrimination in America.