Cornelia Crenshaw, Untiring Advocate for Justice

Updated on October 4, 2019
Muchsuccess profile image

Robert Odell, Jr. enjoys sharing the rich history and culture of Memphis, Tennessee where he has lived and worked for several years.

1968 boycott supporters led by Cornelia Crenshaw
1968 boycott supporters led by Cornelia Crenshaw | Source

She Brought Dr. King to Memphis

Mrs. Cornelia Crenshaw headed the committee that brought Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Memphis. As a result, the Memphis sanitation workers' struggle for equality took center stage on the world scene.

I Am A Man

Robert Worsham wrote and copyrighted the poem "I Am A Man." He later gave a copy of the piece to his friend and civil rights activist Cornelia Crenshaw. Inspired by the words, Crenshaw used the poem's phrase "I Am A Man" as a cry of encouragement for the Memphis sanitation workers during the strike. Mrs. Cornelia Crenshaw was the instrumental force that fostered the phrase "I Am A Man."

Don't look at me with disdain,

For I am not a weakling, I am a man.

I stood when to stand

brought severe reprimand,

I spoke, when to speak

brought denunciations from the weak,

and brutal attacks from those in power,

But to me this was my greatest hour,

With chin thrust out and head up proud,

I stood up straight and I said out loud,

I am a man!

And I shall always defy

the oppression of mankind

until the day I die.

— Robert Worsham

Driving Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

According to Rick Thompson, founder of the Cornelia Crenshaw Human Rights Preservation Foundation, Dr. King always used Mrs. Crenshaw's Lincoln Continental car when he visited Memphis. In the American television series "Eyes On The Prize," Mrs. Crenshaw's Lincoln Continental is the vehicle that transported Dr. King to the head of the People's March.

Dr. King felt that the fight in Memphis would help to reveal the need for economic equality and social justice in America. He hoped his Poor People's Campaign would give the struggle national and international attention.

Instead of accepting Ms. Crenshaw's automobile as a donation, two cars (a Cadillac and a Dodge) initially sat outside the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. According to Thompson, Dr. King never rode in those vehicles.

The 1968 Lincoln Continental owned initially by  Mrs. Crensahw was used by Dr. King.  The photo shows the vehicle sitting at Al's Auto Body Experts after restoration at the shop.
The 1968 Lincoln Continental owned initially by Mrs. Crensahw was used by Dr. King. The photo shows the vehicle sitting at Al's Auto Body Experts after restoration at the shop. | Source

Mrs. Cornelia Crenshaw

Born March 25, 1916, in Millington, TN, Crenshaw moved to Memphis at age five. Cornelia spent her high school days at Booker T. Washington. Upon graduation, she decided to go to Lemoyne-Owen College, a historically black institution. Her many jobs include working as a physician's receptionist, a Memphis Housing Authority project manager, and a public relations rep for a trading stamp firm. She lived at 603 Vance Avenue, as she often stated while addressing the city council, and was very active in the community.

Dedicated Protest

Mrs. Crenshaw played an essential role in the struggle to improve the lives of all the citizens of Memphis. She spoke boldly at City Council meetings and did not mind going to jail to end inequality and bring about positive change. Cornelia was sent to prison in 1969 for disorderly conduct and spent two nights behind bars.

Mrs. Cornelia Crenshaw spoke boldly at City Council meetings and did not mind going to jail to end inequality and bring about positive change.

1969 began a time of dedicated protest for Crenshaw. She started a protest against Memphis, Light, Gas, and Water (MLGW) by refusing to pay the city service fee for having her garbage collected. She wound up having her utilities cut off. Incredibly she went ten years without utilities until she was forced to leave her home in 1979.

Ms. Crenshaw protested against excessive rate increases by MLGW by filing a suit against the organization in 1980. She lost the lawsuit, but her efforts still resulted in an excellent benefit for low-income citizens. MLGW began accepting partial payments. Partial payments prevented service cut-offs and high reconnection fees. The partial payment plan continues to aid people in low-income Memphis households.

In 1980 Cornelia Crenshaw was arrested for protesting at a Memphis City Council meeting.  She was protesting the deaths of two church members who passed away as a result of a heat wave.
In 1980 Cornelia Crenshaw was arrested for protesting at a Memphis City Council meeting. She was protesting the deaths of two church members who passed away as a result of a heat wave. | Source

Mrs. Crenshaw's influence was so profound that she is called "Mother of the Civil Rights Movement In Memphis."

Activism Expands Over Three Decades

Cornelia Crenshaw's activism expands over three decades. Her efforts include:

  • Allowing partial payments on Memphis utility bills
  • Active involvement in the 1960s Memphis garbage worker's strike
  • Exposing use of the welfare system as a political pawn
  • Exposing questionable political practices in Memphis
  • Exposing unequal civil practices toward women
  • Exposing unjust practices toward African Americans in Memphis
  • Active with the People's Convention which led to the election of the first black mayor of Memphis
  • Exposing unfair housing authority practices
  • Exposing wrongful use of taxpayers' money
  • Exposing unfair corporate loopholes

Mrs. Crenshaw's influence was so profound that she is called "Mother of the Civil Rights Movement In Memphis."

One Worthy of Remembrance

Mrs. Cornelia Crenshaw died on February 19, 1994. She lived much of her life in her home on Vance Avenue in Memphis. To honor her, in 1997 The Vance Avenue Library was renamed Cornelia Crenshaw Library. The library was revamped in 2019.

Rick Thompson, the creator of The Cornelia Crenshaw Human Rights Preservation Foundation, Inc., uses the foundation to serve those needing help in the Memphis community.

The words chosen by Thompson for Mrs. Crenshaw's tombstone say it all, "One Worthy of Remembrance."

To honor her, in 1997 The Vance Avenue Library was renamed Cornelia Crenshaw Library. The library was revamped in 2019.

Mayor Jim Strickland (white shirt, dark suit) cuts the ribbon at the opening of the reimagined Cornelia Crenshaw Library branch in September 2019 in Memphis.
Mayor Jim Strickland (white shirt, dark suit) cuts the ribbon at the opening of the reimagined Cornelia Crenshaw Library branch in September 2019 in Memphis.

Sources

Cornelia Crenshaw Human Rights Preservation Foundation, I. (n.d.). Welcome to Cornelia Crenshaw Human Rights Preservation Foundation, Inc.. [online] Cornelia Crenshaw Human Rights Preservation Foundation, Inc. Available at: https://corneliacrenshaw.com/

Crdl.usg.edu. (2019). Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike. [online] Available at: http://crdl.usg.edu/events/memphis_sanitation_strike/

Davenport, J. (2018). Honoring Black History Month: Cornelia Crenshaw, Unsung Hero of the Civil Rights Movement. Clean Energy.org, [online] p.1. Available at: http://clean energy.org

Womenofachievement.org. (2019). Cornelia Crenshaw – Women of Achievement. [online] Available at: http://www.womenofachievement.org/heritage/cornelia-crenshaw/ [Accessed 1 Oct. 2019].

High Ground. (2017). The Cornelia Crensaw library is a "sanctuary" on Vance Avenue. [online] Available at: https://www.highgroundnews.com/features/CorneliaCrenshawLibrary.aspx


Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Robert Odell Jr

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      No comments yet.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)