Community asked to help picture a new Clayborn Temple

Soaring hearts and warm spirits converged Tuesday afternoon (Oct. 25) at a “Blessing Ceremony” ushering in revitalization plans for the historic Clayborn Temple downtown at 204 Hernando Street.

Tony Jones, Special to The New Tri-State Defender | 10/27/2016, 1:30 p.m.
Soaring hearts and warm spirits converged Tuesday afternoon (Oct. 25) at a “Blessing Ceremony” ushering in revitalization plans for the ...
Clayborn Temple now is adorned with 26 mural-like panels – a sign that renovation is in the foreseeable future. The renovation news was greeted with open arms. (Photos: Tyrone P. Easley)

Soaring hearts and warm spirits converged Tuesday afternoon (Oct. 25) at a “Blessing Ceremony” ushering in revitalization plans for the historic Clayborn Temple downtown at 204 Hernando Street.

Closed since 1999, the building was purchased for $65,000 by NPI Clayborn Temple, LLC., which reportedly is working on a plan for rehabilitation and raising funds while looking for another nonprofit end-user.

Community input is to be a big part of the project. The public is encouraged to visit www.ClayReborn to get involved.

One of the key meeting sites during the Sanitation Workers Strike of 1968, its where the workers picked up the now iconic “I AM A MAN” signs.

Bishop E. Lynn Brown captured the emotion associated with Tuesday’s announcement.

“It was from this place that we marched. It was from this place that we strategized. It was from this place that we raised money for the movement. And it was from this place that Dr. Martin Luther King led the march down Main Street,” Brown said.

“As we were marching, someone started breaking out windows, and then they pepper sprayed us – it was mace back then – from downtown back to this building. I was here for the many speeches he (Dr. King) gave here.”

Many in the room credited Environmental Court Judge Larry Potter for keeping the building from being demolished.

“We started with this building more than 20 years ago when the Fire Department came to me and said that the building was falling down. We mandated that certain work had to be done to the building to keep it from collapsing,” Potter said. “Fast forward to another case a couple of years ago, did some more work, and that led to this event. I’m so excited I can hardly stand. It was frightening to see history falling apart…this history! It had to be saved and I am so excited that I had just a little part of it.”

Host committee member Rob Thompson filled in details.

“On the outside of the building you will see several panels covering the windows. They were painted by the artist Darlene Newman. …There are 26 panels covering windows that had been boarded up for almost 20 years.”

Thompson said the windows were designed to point toward a future of activity and vibrancy and to honor the legacy of Clayborn Temple.

“They give us a glimpse of what can, and dare we say, what will happen inside this building.”

With paint donated by the Downtown Commission, students from Grant Academy in south Memphis, Carrot Tops Village in Binghampton and Streets Ministries joined with Newman.

“It would have been much easier for Darlene to paint those herself, but for the students who helped paint those panels, the experience and the process of doing something outside their normal world was just as important as getting the boards up for you to see today,” Thompson said.

“ It is the same for this building. It would be far more efficient for us to just hire an architect and just come up with a plan and get to work renovating the building. But that approach would assume that we know what is best for the building just by virtue of having title to it. We believe that what is best for the building is to draw from the collective strength of the community around it.”