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Henry Loeb III (December 9, 1920 – September 8, 1992) was an American politician of the Democratic party, who was mayor of Memphis, Tennessee for two separate terms in the 1960s, from 1960 through 1963, and 1968 through 1971.[1] He gained national notoriety in his second term for his role in opposing the demands of striking sanitation workers in early 1968.[2]


Loeb's grandparents were Jewish Germans who migrated from Germany to Memphis in the 1860s. His grandfather, Henry Loeb, founded Loeb's Laundry.[3] Loeb III attended Phillips Academy and Brown University. He then served on a patrol boat in World War II. After the war, he gained popularity with the white middle class through appeals to his military service and through opposition to communism.[citation needed]

Loeb was Memphis's Public Works commissioner from 1956 to 1960. In 1959, he called for a "white unity" electoral ticket to oppose the increasingly organized black vote in Memphis.[4] He was re-elected to a second term in November 1967. Loeb converted to Episcopalianism immediately after he started his second term as Mayor of Memphis on New Years Day, 1968.[5]


Loeb was a conservative in politics; but he received a large part of his criticism, as well as local support, for the local police's harsh and often violent treatment of strikers and sympathizers, which included local ministers, schoolchildren, and families of the workers. It was only after the King assassination, and subsequent Federal pressure placed on the city by President Lyndon Johnson and the United States Department of Labor, that the city relented and recognized AFSCME.

Loeb supported segregation, declaring support for "separate but equal facilities" and describing court-ordered integration as "anarchy".[4] He grew more antagonistic to civil rights and labor in his second term, refusing even during the 1967 election to make any concessions to black union workers. He won the election despite intense opposition from Memphis's black community. The especially harsh conditions he imposed at the start of his 1968 term were a trigger for the Memphis Sanitation Strike.[6]

Sanitation strike

Loeb was mayor during what came to be known as the Memphis Sanitation Strike of 1968. About 1,300 African-American members of Local 1733 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) engaged in a 64-day strike for improved wages, working conditions, and union recognition.

This conflict, and racial violence that spread throughout the city in its wake, brought Martin Luther King, Jr. to visit Memphis in late March of that year,[2] in order to assist AFSCME in their negotiations with Loeb and other city officials and work alongside other Civil Rights leaders in raising consciousness about the low pay and mistreatment suffered by the workers. At the time, the City Charter did not allow for strikes to be held by city workers. Loeb upheld the law and continued to try to negotiate a resolution to the conflict. However, on April 4, King was assassinated. In the nationwide rioting that followed April 4–5, out of necessity, Loeb installed a curfew.

Those events helped force a temporary resolution of the strike on the part of the city. Negotiations on April 16 brought an end to the strike and a promise of better wages.[7][8]

Personal and later life

Henry Loeb was married to the former Mary Gregg and they had two sons and a daughter.[2] Loeb himself eventually left Memphis and moved to Forrest City, Arkansas,[2] some 50 miles westward in St. Francis County where he lived on a large family estate. He was active in the Rotary Club, the Church of the Good Shepherd, and was instrumental in the early formation of the local Forrest City Area Humane Society. He owned an International Harvester dealership in Forrest City for many years and retired in the 1980s. He suffered a stroke in 1988, and died in September 1992.[2]


  1. "US Mayors". Retrieved April 4, 2013. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 "Henry Loeb, 71, Memphis Mayor At Time of King's Assassination". The New York Times. September 10, 1992. p. 21. Retrieved April 5, 2013. 
  3. "Henry Loeb III profile". August 21, 2008. Retrieved October 29, 2014. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Honey, Michael K. (2007). "Dr. King, Labor, and the Civil Rights Movement". Going down Jericho Road the Memphis strike, Martin Luther King's last campaign. New York: Norton. ISBN 978-0-393-04339-6. "Loeb, the outgoing Public Works commissioner, said 'a lot of good white men' might suffer if Sugarmon got elected as a commissioner of Public Works, and he called for a 'white unity' ticket." 
  5. "King’s Last Message". Retrieved 30 May 2017. 
  6. Honey, Michael K. (2007). "On Strike for Respect". Going down Jericho Road the Memphis strike, Martin Luther King's last campaign (1 ed.). New York: Norton. ISBN 978-0-393-04339-6. 
  7. "Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike (1968)". King Institute Encyclopedia. Martin Luther King Jr., Research and Education Institute. Retrieved July 18, 2012. 
  8. Garofalo, Michael; Thiam, Selly; Thrasher, Steven (April 4, 2008). "Sanitation Workers Remember King's Last Stand". Retrieved July 18, 2012. 

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