Whatever Force Necessary: The Politics of Police Brutality in the Post-Jim Crow South, 1968-1971
On October 15, 1971, Memphis police officers beat Elton Hayes, a seventeen-year old black youth, to death. The incident sparked a riotous upheaval in Memphis, echoing the dramatic days of the Sanitation Strike and aftermath of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination in 1968. In the days of civil disorder that followed, an unlikely assortment of Memphis citizens and leaders, including the musician Isaac Hayes, converged to quell the riots and demand solutions. The Hayes incident is a critical addendum to the story of race relations in Memphis, challenging the mythology surrounding 1968. In the years following King's death, Memphians would experience a tumultuous period of tense race relations, increased police brutality, the emergence of African-American political power, as well as the rise of the Silent Majority. The problem of police brutality in Memphis from 1968-1971 sheds light on the uneasy transition from segregation to the Sunbelt South, and how the need to regulate young black males drove the politics of the post-Jim Crow urban South. The controversy surrounding law enforcement in Memphis during this period illustrates how police brutality helped mobilize black political power rather than stifle it.