Cover image for Memphis, Martin, and the mountaintop : the sanitation strike of 1968
Memphis, Martin, and the mountaintop : the sanitation strike of 1968
Physical Description:
1 volume (unpaged) : color illustrations ; 29 cm.
Recounts the 1968 sanitation workers strike in Memphis, Tennessee, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his final speech to strikers the night before his assassination, and details the perseverance of strikers before and after his death.


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available

On Order



A 2019 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book * A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year * A Booklist Editors' Choice * A Kirkus Reviews Best Children's Book * Booklist Top 10 Diverse Books for Middle Grade or Older Readers * A Chicago Public Library Best of the Best Books

"(A) history that everyone should know: required and inspired." - Kirkus Reviews, starred review

This historical fiction picture book presents the story of nine-year-old Lorraine Jackson, who in 1968 witnessed the Memphis sanitation strike--Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s final stand for justice before his assassination--when her father, a sanitation worker, participated in the protest.

In February 1968, two African American sanitation workers were killed by unsafe equipment in Memphis, Tennessee. Outraged at the city's refusal to recognize a labor union that would fight for higher pay and safer working conditions, sanitation workers went on strike. The strike lasted two months, during which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was called to help with the protests. While his presence was greatly inspiring to the community, this unfortunately would be his last stand for justice. He was assassinated in his Memphis hotel the day after delivering his "I've Been to the Mountaintop" sermon in Mason Temple Church. Inspired by the memories of a teacher who participated in the strike as a child, author Alice Faye Duncan reveals the story of the Memphis sanitation strike from the perspective of a young girl with a riveting combination of poetry and prose.

Author Notes

Alice Faye Duncan is the author of multiple children's books, including Honey Baby Sugar Child , which received an NAACP Image Award Nomination for Outstanding Literary Work for Children.

R. Gregory Christie has illustrated more than fifty books for young adults and children. His work has won a Caldecott Honor, a New York Times 10 Best Illustrated Children's Books of the Year Award (two times), the Coretta Scott King Honor in Illustration (three times), the NAACP's Image Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, and the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award. He currently operates his store of autographed children's books, GAS-ART Gifts, in Decatur, Georgia. Visit

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

Duncan relays the story of the 1968 Memphis sanitation strike, which was triggered after two black sanitation workers died when their poorly maintained truck malfunctioned. After the incident, Mayor Henry Loeb refused to meet the demands of the newly formed sanitation workers' union for better pay, treatment, and safety standards, and 1,300 men walked off the job. Duncan writes in fervent free verse from the perspective of Lorraine Jackson, a fictional girl whose father joins the strike and who is loosely based on Almella Starks-Umoja, a teacher who marched in strike protests with her parents as a child. Lorraine's narrative is passionate and personal: "My daddy... marched for better pay. He marched for decent treatment. My daddy marched for me." As violence erupts, and Martin Luther King Jr. arrives to deliver his "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech the day before his assassination, the emotional tenor of Lorraine's story builds, cresting with the strike's settlement: "So much was won. So much was lost. Freedom is never free." Christie's vivid, emotive gouache paintings feature a montage of powerful panoramas and portraits, including those of the protesters, King, and Lorraine's family. Ages 9-12. (Aug.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Horn Book Review

The 1968 Memphis Sanitation Strike is not often covered in picture books, despite its being Dr. King's final march before his assassination. In a poignant mix of poetry and prose, fictional child Lorraine Jackson shares her family's story of resistance as she helped her sanitation-worker father fight for fair wages and safer working conditions. Christie's rich gouache paintings illustrate the honest portrayal of an intense historical moment. Timeline. Bib. (c) Copyright 2019. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* In this impressive picture book, a character inspired by an African American family involved in the 1968 Memphis sanitation strike tells her first-person account of the experience in verse and prose. Nine-year-old Lorraine begins, I remember Memphis and legions of noblemen. / I remember broken glass as the voice of a fallen King. / Fire, smoke, and ashes ravaged midnight cityscapes. / Black men marched for honor, and I must tell the story. From her we learn about the strike's impetus and its effect on the community, the dreams that kept it going, the state of emergency, and the excitement when Dr. King marched there in March, followed by the tragedy that occurred when he was back on April 4. Each full-page spread functions as a chapter with headings such as Silver Rights, Trucks and Tanks, Black Widow, and Mountaintop. The informative back matter, meanwhile, includes a time line and source notes. The excellent gouache art is typical of Christie's distinctive and impactful style, with impressionistic images set on pages saturated with shades of blue, yellow, or orange. Most gratifyingly, the determination of the characters and the import of this part of history are imbued with dignity throughout.--Andrew Copyright 2018 Booklist

School Library Journal Review

Gr 2-5-Duncan tells the story of the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Strike and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. through the voice of Lorraine Jackson, an invented character who looks back on her childhood as the nine-year-old daughter of a sanitation worker. The book opens with a poem, beginning simply, "I remember Memphis," and continues mostly in prose, with several pages of poetry in different formats interspersed. The haiku "Omen" is striking amid the longer pages: "Yellow Daffodils. Sixteen inches under snow. King canceled his march." The language throughout is powerful. Christie's Acryla gouache paintings are breathtaking, from the wide white brush strokes in the snowy background of the aforementioned haiku, to the impeccable rendering of Coretta Scott King marching in a widow's veil four days after her husband's assassination. Lorraine is depicted earnestly with braids in bows, and bobby socks. Warm yellows and oranges and cool blues alternate as backgrounds to most full-bleed pages. The text is fully researched, with cited sources, and draws many details from interviews with a Memphis teacher who experienced this moment in history as a child. VERDICT A superbly written and illustrated work. A first purchase for public and school libraries.-Clara Hendricks, Cambridge Public Library, MA © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

Fifty years on, readers reminisce with a young black girl who recalls how black sanitation workers launched a movement for equal rights and safer working conditions and stayed committed to justice amid tragic loss. Basing her story on the true accounts of Dr. Almella Starks-Umoja, Duncan creates 9-year-old Lorraine Jackson to tell the full story of the Memphis sanitation strike of 1968. The story begins not with the entrance of Martin Luther King, who would arrive in March, but in January, when the tragic deaths of two black garbagemen due to old, malfunctioning equipment added to calls for change. The author's choice to not focus on the singular efforts of King but on the dedicated efforts of community signals a deeply important lesson for young readers. Strong historical details back up the organizing feat: "In the morning and afternoon, for sixty-five days, sanitation workers marched fourteen blocks through the streets of downtown Memphis." The narrative is set in vignettes that jump between verse and prose, set against Christie's bold paintings. Lorraine learns that "Dreamers never quit" after reminiscing on what would be Dr. King's final lecture, delivered on April 3. The struggle doesn't end with King's death but continues with the spotlight cast by Coretta Scott King on the sanitation workers' demands. "Freedom is never free," Lorraine notes before closing with the thought that it remains our mission to "Climb up the MOUNTAINTOP!"Encapsulates the bravery, intrigue, and compassion that defined a generation, presenting a history that everyone should know: required and inspired. (Picture book. 9-12) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.