I AM 2018: 50th Anniversary of Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike
April 2 - April 4
1968 in Memphis, Tennessee, city sanitation workers – members of AFSCME Local 1733 – went on strike. They were tired of poverty wages, unsafe working conditions, and the city’s refusal to recognize their union. They refused to continue to endure racial hostility and humiliation on the job.
The galvanizing moment came when two workers, Robert Walker and Echol Cole, were crushed to death in a gruesome accident involving a faulty truck. By walking off the job, the sanitation workers asserted their humanity. That’s what their famous slogan – “I Am a Man” – was all about.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Memphis to offer his support and join them in solidarity, because he believed there can be no racial justice without economic justice. He believed that labor rights, civil rights and human rights are all one and the same, and for his devotion to these values, Dr. King paid the ultimate price. The morning after he delivered his iconic Mountaintop speech at the historic Mason Temple, Dr. King was assassinated.
The struggle for labor rights, civil rights, and human rights continues. It’s up to us to pick up where Dr. King left off. Inspired by his courage and his moral example, we are answering that call today.