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Karen Spencer-McGhee

Karen Spencer-McGhee

Spencer-McGhee describes Memphis as ‘my’ city. She was born here in 1963 at John Gaston Hospital. She smiles, thinking about her younger days here, describing them as “happy days.” Her grandfather, Tommy Hunt, was one of the first 1300 sanitation strikers. She would sometimes attend strikers’ meetings with him while her mother was at work. She spent a lot of time with her grandfather and some of the other sanitation workers who marched with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

At the start of school desegregation in the 1970s, Ms. McGhee and other children from her community began attending predominantly white schools. She details her first encounter with racism when a boy spit at her and called her a Nigger. Dealing with the pain of the Civil Rights era, she learned to fight back against the racism she was experiencing from her peers solely based on her skin color and the hatred that they were learning at home.

In her early years, Karen moved to Grand Junction, Tennessee, but eventually moved back home to Memphis, an experience she notes as “bittersweet.” Moving back to Tennessee at age 50 and still having to fight the same fights against poverty, disenfranchisement, and inequality from her youth was disheartening.

McGhee also mentions that she has experienced homelessness four times between the years 2009 to 2019, which has significantly impacted her advocacy for others who find themselves in similar situations, regardless of the reason. She believes Memphis to be the richest, most progressive city in the South, but yet there is
still a prominent issue of homelessness and poverty all around us.

Another incident that has affected her deeply was the 2015 murder of Darius Stewart at the hands of a Memphis police officer. She vividly remembers dropping everything she was doing to help Darius’s mother, Mary Stewart, get justice. As the mother of a black son herself, she is reminded that it could have easily been
her own.

At the time of Darius’s death, she was planning a peace and healing circle with other mothers, but his death quickly pivoted them, and they decided to do a demonstration on the Memphis bridge and start Black Lives Matter Memphis…



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