Memphis mourns loss of civil rights hero

John T. Fisher, photo courtesy The Commercial Appeal.
John T. Fisher, photo courtesy The Commercial Appeal.

(WMC-TV) – Memphians remembered a hero of the civil rights movement Tuesday during funeral services were for John T. Fisher at St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral.

Four decades ago, when Dr. Martin Luther King Junior's assassination tore Memphis apart, Fisher was among those who tried to bring the community together. He invited blacks and whites to a peace rally called Memphis Cares. Six thousand people showed up.

"Well, among other things, I think he genuinely believed in racial equality," said longtime family friend and Fisher's former coworker Dr. Bruce Steinhauer.

Steinhauer was impressed with the way Fisher tried to heal racial tension.

In 1968, Fisher ran a very successful car dealership. Elvis Presley was among the customers he sold cars to, but he didn't just cater to the wealthy. Fisher put a lot on the line when he became one of the few white businessmen to support the sanitation strike that brought King to Memphis.

"I think partly it was his ethical and religious background that contributed to that," Steinhauer said. "He was devoted to the church."

In later years, Fisher worked with Steinhauer at the Med and was in charge of fundraising. Steinhauer credits Fisher with helping establishing everything from the Elvis Presley Trauma Center to the hospital's burn unit.

Fisher also reached out to the community through his church St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral. But Steinhauer said what he will remember most is Fisher's love for his wife Jean and the rest of his family.

"He was proud of his family and he was proud of their accomplishments," he said.

And Steinhauer said Fisher's family is proud of him.

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