March 1968 spring snowstorm remembered - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

March 1968 spring snowstorm remembered

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (FOX13) -

By 1968 the average accumulation of snowfall in Memphis was 5.6 inches. But, when the month of March rolls around it seems Memphians have a reason to be wary.

Three of the 10 biggest snows in the Bluff City have come during early, middle, and late March.

But, none were more unexpected than a blockbuster on March 21, 1968. It was a time when radio's Top 40 hailed the late Memphis singer Otis Redding's first, last, and posthumous No. 1 hit, the classic "Sittin' on The Dock of the Bay."

Memphis moviegoers were flocking to the bloody low-budget horror flick "Berserk."

But, there appeared to be nothing for Memphians to fear from Mother Nature. The rather blah forecast on Thursday March 21, 1968 called for occasional rain ending by the evening. Expected high 45 while the low would be 34.

Yet, as night fell the skies would silently turn a ghostly white. "Snowmeggeden '68" began to wreak terror on unsuspecting Memphians. Among those caught totally unaware by the epic snowstorm in the making was then 10th grader, now Memphis historian Jimmy Ogle.

"We had our last exam at MUS and we had a bunch of guys celebrating, shooting pool late at night," Ogle said.
My sister, she was college age and had people playing cards. Lo and behold it snowed about 12, 13 or 14 inches. By the time we went back outside, we couldn't get their cars back up the hill in the neighborhood I lived in. So, they all had to spend the night there."

Rare home video shot after the storm subsided provided proof of the depth of what Memphians had to endure. For 21 hours, at various temps, the snowflakes fell unabated: 8.7 inches on March 21st, the 22nd would add another 7.4 and a glaze of 1.2 on Saturday would bring the total to 17.3 inches.

It was recorded as the second biggest snowfall in Memphis only behind an 18 inch blanket of white that fell on March 17th, 1892.

Predictably, thousands were without power. Southern Bell reported telephone services to more than 10,000 people were interrupted. One death was attributed to the storm. The surprise spring snowfall might have also been responsible for providing a strange twist to history and producing the unlikeliest of heroes.

With negotiations raging between the sanitation workers and the city, the snowstorm forced Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to cancel a planned protest march in Memphis scheduled for March 22, 1968. When he did arrive days later, a march down Beale Street ended in a bloody confrontation with police. A humiliated Dr. King felt the need to return in April which proved to be fatal.

But, Dr. King's no-show March 22 led to one of the most memorable pictures ever taken. By himself, international harvester employee Tommy Moore waged a one man protest in front of city hall in support of the sanitation workers strike. Moore's tenacity so impressed embattled Mayor Henry Loeb he personally rewarded the boiler operator by bringing him a cup of coffee.

For a moment in 1968 a snowstorm had brought a welcomed temporary thaw to human relations in Memphis. 

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