Keynote speaker at I Am A Man march commemoration has harsh words for city leaders

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Harsh words for Memphis' leaders by the keynote speaker at Saturday's commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the famous "I Am A Man" march.

CNN commentator Angela Rye paid tribute to those brave sanitation workers but also called out the city's leader for a lack of progress when it comes to poverty and social justice.

"This is not the Memphis that Dr. King would have appreciated and talked about going to the promise land," Rye said.

It was a packed house at the Orpheum Theater for the the 50th commemoration of the sanitation strike. The program was moved inside due to weather.

"You wanted to have a reverse march today, and you couldn't, and you couldn't because you can't substantially honor progress that doesn't exist," Rye said.

Rye called out the mayor on the city's child poverty rate, city hall black list, and meeting with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

"We can enjoy the progress, we can celebrate the progress, but let's not lie to each other about where we are," Rye said.

She was moved to tears as she challenged Memphis to do more.

"And I'm crying from frustration because we can do better as a people, we must do better as a people, our lives are literally on the line," Rye said.

"I think it's good to be challenge, challenged to do better," Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said.

Strickland noted the progress the city has made with sanitation worker pensions and child literacy programs.

"She (Rye) was wrong in many of her facts. She's not from Memphis. She doesn't know what's going on here," Strickland said.

Although the city paid Rye at least $10,000 to speak, Strickland said he wasn't familiar with her work.

"I didn't know who she was," he admitted.

"Knowing what they had to go through, and for them to share their story so we can get an input on what they had to go through," a student in attendance said.

Students at the commemoration said it was a learning experience.

A sanitation worker who after 64 years is still going strong, Elmore Nickleberry said we've made progress but must keep going.

"Let's keep the dream alive, keep fighting for what's right," he said.

Rye vowed to donate $5,000 of her speaking fee to the C-3 Land Cooperative and the other $5,000 to Black Lives Matter Memphis.

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