MEMPHIS, Tenn. —He's one of the most colorful and recognizable faces in Memphis politics Dr. Willie Herenton former teacher, school administrator, superintendent and mayor.
"Memphis was a very mean spirited city when it comes to race, " shared Herenton.
But it's his work in civil rights he says that defined him as a man.
"Very troubling the 60's represented an era of protests on the part of black people," Recalls Herenton. "Especially in the south because historically black people were denied basic human rights,"
He recalls marching with Dr. King twice in Memphis.
"I vividly remember when Dr. King came to Memphis he engaged in two marches I was a part of both of those marches," said Herenton
But for Herenton, that decision didn't come lightly
" I was the youngest black principal in the school system black or white," Herenton said. "They had identified me as a rising star, all I had to do was play the game with the white folks and they would raise me up "
DR. Herenton risked losing it all for the choice he made to stand up.
"I was called upon by two very brave black women asking black men to stand up to be, to be men," Herenton remembers. "AndIi looked in that audience and saw men that I respected who were paralyzed with fear, fearful they would lose their jobs--they would not walk."
He says he was the only black principal to march with teachers-- a move that did cost him
"I experienced isolation, the meetings when we would have the principal's meetings the black principals would not want to be seen talking to me. they didn't want the white leadership seeing them talking to me, they labeled me a black militant."
But looking back Dr. Herenton says it was one of the defining moments of his life.
"That particular stance built a foundation of strength for me, once i got past that one the rest of them have been easy. " >