Anasa Troutman wears many hats (including being a record producer), but in this interview, the focus is on her role as executive director of Historic Clayborn Temple, a $25 million project to restore a building that was the central organizing hub of the 1968 sanitation workers’ strike in Memphis. On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated while visiting Memphis to support that strike.

The interview that follows explores the history of the Clayborn Temple, the project to restore it, and the vision of Troutman and her colleagues to use the temple as a hub for developing a community-based economy in Memphis that iBlack-owned, Black-governed, and which sustains a thriving culture rooted in the Black imagination.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

SD: What is the Historic Clayborn Temple, and what does the renovation project, which I understand to be a $25 million project, involve?

AT: Historic Clayborn Temple is a lot of things, but it is best known for being the headquarters of the sanitation workers’ strike of 1968. The reason why that strike was so important is because it was, at its core, about sanitation workers being able to have a union to protect their rights.

In the broader sense, it was really about the fact that these men had been abused for so long, working under terrible conditions. There were little things. Back then, there were no trash bags, so sanitation workers literally dumped people’s garbage bags into a bin that they purchased themselves and which would erode over time. They would get trash and maggots and trash juice on their clothes and not have a place to shower or a uniform, so [they] could keep [their] clothes clean. These are the little things that eat away at your humanity. 

And then the big things, like they would be sent home if it rained, cutting their wages more. And the dangerous things. What led to the strike in the first place was the fact that two workers were killed in the back of a truck. The range of things they had to endure as human beings, from small things to life-and-death things were for them why they went on strike.  

Clayborn is that space for us. We are reopening in two years as a cultural arts center. So, we will be primarily a space for gathering, primarily a space for storytelling. And we will have a second building on the back that will be dedicated to restorative economics to continue the work of the sanitation workers. Because we are inspired by their story, but their story must not end with them. We need to take up the mantle and do the work. Our hope and our vision for the building is that it will be a place of gathering and a place of story but also…a place for intersectional conversation about what it means for all of us to experience our abundance and be safe in our communities. 

Read the full article about restoring Historic Clayborn Temple by Steve Dubb at Nonprofit Quarterly.