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Restoration project for Clayborn Temple centers on continuing the "I am a man" dream into the future

“I see the restoration of the building as really a metaphor for the restoration of this community,” said Anasa Troutman.

MEMPHIS, Tenn — Renovations for the Historic Clayborn Temple continue as part of a $14 million restoration project.

Anasa Troutman, the executive director of the temple explained the community's stories are living inside buildings like the church. 

“I think the possibility of what we could do, not just to tell the story of the past but to leverage that story to tell the story of the future is really why historic preservation is so important,” said Troutman.  

The executive director said the church became known as a place for community and because of its reputation and closeness to city hall, it was chosen as the site for the sanitation workers strike. The same strike that drew Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to Memphis. 

In 1968 Clayborn Temple organized the well-known the sanitation workers strike, with signs reading “I am a man.”

Troutman said strikers would pick up their protest signs made in the church’s basement then march downtown.  

“In a moment where black people, in particular, were really robbed of their humanity it was an assertion of dignity and humanity and just the right to live a free and happy and abundant life.”  

The church first opened in 1892 as Second Presbyterian Church and became Clayborn Temple in the 50s after it was sold to the A.M.E. Church.

Clayborn Temple was abandoned in the early 2000s, and the roof then caved in. 

Troutman explained that renovations will include murals telling the story of the sanitation strike. There are also plans for the bell to be placed back in its tower. 

“I see the restoration of the building as really a metaphor for the restoration of this community,” commented Troutman. “We have so much work to do build relationships with each other to make the future that we actually want to be possible and that is why we’re going to be a place for storytelling.”

Clayborn Temple will reopen as a cultural arts center with a museum in the basement. The emphasis is for the church's history to intertwine with the stories of people who live in Memphis.

“We will continue to do our work in the community to be able to make sure that that I am a man dream continues live into the future,” said Troutman.

Troutman said construction is expected to be fully done in three years but will be open in two years to the public.