Police Killed A 17-Year-Old Boy During The Historic Memphis Strike

old picture of memphis tennessee
Zain Murdock
February 27, 2023

March 28, 1968, was amid a massive labor strike in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had come to speak days prior, and hundreds of students skipped school to join the protesting streets. One was 17-year-old Larry Payne, who didn’t make it out alive. 

White officer Leslie Dean Jones chased Payne, accusing him of looting. Neighbors said Payne had both hands on his head when Jones took out his shotgun and shot him in the stomach.

Dr. King called Payne’s mother, promising to offer condolences in person. But before he could, he was killed, too.

Uselessly, the FBI re-opened Payne’s case in 2007 - before deciding Jones hadn’t used excessive force and closing it again in 2011.

Today, Black people are still fighting for labor rights. Police still brutalize protestors and kill Black youth.

And in 2022, Payne’s family expressed a worry: that Memphis, and all of us, had already forgotten about him. From brainstorming a documentary to mental health and grief awareness, their fight isn’t over. “This is something that’s forever,” said his sister.

We must never forget our history - not only because there is no expiration date on grieving Black life, but also because it’s still relevant today. Learning about and from history gives us leverage in today’s movements and brings us closer together in our collective grief.

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