MEMPHIS, Tenn. (CN) – Elvis Presley Enterprises and the city of Memphis conspired to block five black people from attending an annual candlelight vigil at the singer’s gravesite because of their race, a federal discrimination lawsuit claims.
In the lawsuit filed Wednesday, the plaintiffs say they were denied access to a public candlelight vigil held at Graceland on Aug. 15, 2016, to commemorate Elvis’s death, as well as surrounding sidewalks, streets and businesses.
Presley died of a heart attack on Aug. 16, 1977, after years of failing health and substance abuse. Since then, the anniversary of his death has been marked by several days of events celebrating his life, culminating in the annual candlelight vigil.
The Memphis residents sued Elvis Presley Enterprises and the City of Memphis in federal court, claiming the two conspired together to deny black people access to the public vigil.
One of the plaintiffs, the Rev. Earle Fisher, says in the complaint that white citizens in line with him were all allowed to enter Graceland, but that a Memphis police officer told him to leave the premises.
Another plaintiff, Catherine Lewis, says she was forcibly removed from Graceland’s parking lot shortly after chanting “black lives matter.”
Others say they were blocked from the property.
“The City of Memphis Police Department, under the direction of Elvis Presley Enterprises, required black citizens attempting to attend the public vigil to remain in certain fenced off areas, and black citizens were not allowed access to Graceland or the sidewalk surrounding Graceland, which is open to the public,” the lawsuit says.
Elvis Presley Enterprises did not immediately return a request for comment Friday.
The plaintiffs seek damages for racial discrimination, civil rights violations, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
They are represented by Bruce Kramer of the Apperson Crump of Memphis.
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