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A Continued Search for Meaning: Honoring the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King's Dream

MLK in Memphis: Sanitation Workers' Strike

Sanitation workers strike on Beale Street while National Guard patrols

University Libraries' Digital Repository Digital Image © 2011, University of Memphis Libraries Preservation and Special Collections Department.

Essay Guidelines

Memphis shares a unique history with the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His last civil rights campaign, his last speech, his last breath all occurred in downtown Memphis. Several of the city employees who were present during the Sanitation Strike still call Memphis home.          

In honor of this rich history and the wealth of resources available at the University Libraries’, McWherter Library is hosting an essay contest. We invite interested undergraduate and graduate students to respond to one of the relevant historical photographs in our University Libraries Digital Repository (ULDR):  

Prizes - Prizes will be awarded in two categories; undergraduate and graduate. Undergraduate First Place - $150.00 / Honorable Mention - gift card; Graduate First Place - $150.00 / Honorable Mention - gift card. First place winners must agree to read a portion of their essay at the awards reception (April 3) and allow their entries to be published in the Commercial Appeal. 

Essay Categories:

Personal Reflection Essay - Choose an image from the digital collection.  In a 750 - 1000 word essay, and using some of the resources from the library, reflect on the meaning of the image as it relates to a specific personal event or historical event that happened to you or someone in your family or circle of influence. 

Historical Significance Essay - Choose an image from the digital collection.  In a 750 – 1000 word essay, analyze the historical and or intellectual context of the image as it relates the overall concept of political or social justice.

Artistic Expression Essay - Choose an image from the digital collection.  In a 750-1000 word essay, discuss the artistic significance of the photo as it relates to the general social, political, or economic culture during the Civil Rights movement or current events.

Rules & Guidelines:

1. All essays must be submitted from an area college student’s campus email address
2. Students may submit only one essay, and it must be the student’s original work.
3. The essay must be typed in Times New Roman font, size 12, double spaced with standard one inch margins one side only.
4. The essay must be 1000 words or fewer.
5. Do not place your name or any other identifying information on any page of the essay. The name, phone number, college or university email address, student classification, and link to one ULDR image must be submitted in the body of the email as the entry form accompanying the essay.
6. All essays should be in response to one of the images on the images on the ULDR. The sources do not need to be from Dr. King but must relate to the topic of the essay.
7. Essays may NOT include photographs, images, illustrations, etc. The image selected by the authors will be displayed by the MLK50 committee during the awards presentation.
8. All essays will be judged on content relevancy to image and contest theme, originality of ideas and clarity of expression, personal perspective, organization, grammar, and guidelines.
9. All essays submitted become the property of the University Libraries and may be displayed on the website, in other university publications, or in locations throughout the campus community.
10. University of Memphis faculty and staff and/or their family members are not eligible.

Essays will be evaluated by a committee of faculty, staff, and students from the University of Memphis.  Decisions of the evaluation committee are final. The committee must receive a minimum of 3 essays in each category to run the contest

Deadline & Submission - Essays will only be accepted by email

  1. Essays should be sent to Shelia Gaines at and copied to Iesha Williams at
  2. The subject line of the email should contain only the title of the essay.
  3. Include in the text of your email the following information (This information serves as your ENTRY FORM for email submissions. Entries will not be read without the following): First and last name; Essay title; Student classification (graduate or undergraduate); Home street address, City, State, Zip Code; Telephone number with area code; link to selected image in ULDR.

Registration Deadline: Friday, February 24, 2018, 11:59 p.m.  - A confirmation will be sent to the email address listed on the registration form within three business days.

Notification of Winners - Finalists will be notified by phone and email and will be invited to attend the awards ceremony where the winners will be announced. 

Special Note - 1st, place essays winner must agree to read or a portion of their essay during the awards reception and allow their entries to be published on the library’s web page. By accepting a prize, winners grant to the University of Memphis, University Libraries, the MLK50 Committee the right to edit, publish, copy, display and otherwise use their entries in connection with this contest, and to further use their names, likenesses, and biographical information in advertising and promotional materials, without further compensation or permission, except where prohibited by law.  

Questions: Shelia Gaines, Head of Circulation / 901-678-8201 or