Former Teacher Recalls Guiding Students During Turbulent 1968

As a teacher living in the Mid-South in 1968, Hattye Yarbrough watched the events taking place in Memphis from a distance.

"You didn't want to miss anything," she said. "You wanted to know every second what was going on...what was happening, how his family was and how his friends were. Were they in danger? These are the kind of thoughts we had."

They were the same thoughts her students had.  Yarbrough taught in a segregated in Tipton County, and though she retired twenty years ago, she'll never forget the classroom conversations she concerning the sanitation strike and Dr. King's determination.

"I asked the question, 'Is this job important?' Even though they could not see that being a sanitation worker could be that important that Martin Luther King would want to return to Memphis and risk his life for these men," she said.

Over the years, Dr. King's death took on new meaning for Yarbrough.  Her teachings began to reflect those of the civil rights leader.

"He didn't practice looking down or up to work," she said. "Everything to him was honorable, and he saw this sanitation work as being an honorable job, even though people saw it as being dirty."

You had to explain to them that here was a man who is trying to unite a nation and a people, and he has to return to finish the job he started," she added.

It's a job Yarbrough believes is still unfinished.  She hopes she was able to instill at least the foundation for the fight in her students 40 years ago.
"We still live in a sick country," she said. "We don't understand why black people react the way they do, but then you have never walked in a black man's or black person's shoes. "The kinds of things that under the table people feel - that you should accept this and not complain or react - and you don't feel like you can do this when your fathers, husbands, and brothers...fought for freedom for all of us."