Panel of American Women-Memphis helped change the city during turbulent times – Part-1

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- It was the 1960s. Memphis was in turmoil after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior.

"There was at the same time an eagerness to learn what we didn't know," says Jocelyn Wurzburg. She wanted to unite Memphis

"Memphis was in pain and when you are in pain, it's usually the momma who tries to alleviate the pain," she says.

She recruited women to start a Panel of American Women-Memphis Chapter. It was based on panels already in existence in Little Rock and Kansas City.\
The panel was made up a Jew, a Catholic, a Black and a White. The women went into the community and held panel discussions on education inequity, unfair wages and the big issue-racism.

"We kinda felt that by bringing in anti-Catholicism and anti-Semitism, it was a less threatening way of bringing in racism," says Wurzburg.

Modeane Thompson was one of the first blacks on the panel.

"It was just Panel of American Women and then they said ooh there is a black one. We were all very cordial and non-confrontational," says Thompson.

Thompson's push to get involved came after a stinging question from her 4-year-old son. It's something she wrote about for a national magazine

"One day he said mommie, the Negro is gonna get you. I said what. He said the bad people are gonna get you. I said where did you get that. He said that's what they say on the television," says Thompson. "It was so very frustrating to me as a mother not to know what to say to my child."

On the panel moms talked about raising children in a climate of fear and hate.
Happy Jones was the White Protestant on the Panel.

"I was sharing that I had grown up as a white privileged person. What I was seeing was discrimination against blacks and religious groups was just wrong," says Jones.

"It was enlightening. What needed to be said was that white women needed to be speaking out about the prejudices in this community towards black folks," says Jones.

Their work challenged beliefs and customs.

"We had been taught these things and they weren't right," says Wurzburg.

One of their biggest tasks involved the Memphis sanitation workers and the city.

"There was going to be a second sanitation strike dealing with hours, wages and working conditions," says Wurzburg.

A Human Relations Committee turned to the Panel for help.

Check out Part 2 of our report to see how these housewives were drawn into a labor battle that changed them and their city.