Home » ‘The Story of I AM’: New podcast recounts the historic Memphis sanitation strike

‘The Story of I AM’: New podcast recounts the historic Memphis sanitation strike

by The Grio

In this March 30, 1968 file photo, Tennessee National Guard troopers in jeeps and trucks escort a protest march by striking Memphis sanitation workers through downtown Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo, File)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

On Feb. 1, 1968, two Memphis sanitation workers, Robert Walker and Echol Cole, were picking up garbage on their route when they sought shelter from a driving rainstorm by crouching in the back of their truck. Something tripped the mechanism that compressed the trash, and Cole and Walker were crushed to death.

This horrific tragedy was avoidable, the result of shocking negligence on the part of city leaders. The men had repeatedly raised a red flag that trucks in the fleet were decrepit and unsafe. But the city didn’t recognize their union and had no incentive or inclination to make any changes.

This incident ignited one of the most courageous worker actions in American history: a two-month strike by the city’s entire sanitation workforce, who were represented by AFSCME, the union I now serve as president. These 1,300 Black men, most of whom made less than $70 a week, had had enough. They suffered race-based indignities on the job every single day. They were called “boy.” They worked under degrading, plantation-like conditions. For these proud men, the deaths of Walker and Cole were the very last straw.

The signs they carried as they marched said it all, four simple words so powerful in their simplicity: I AM A MAN. The strike drew the attention of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who would join the sanitation workers’ fight — in what would be his last campaign.

On the 55th anniversary of these extraordinary events, AFSCME is launching a five-episode podcast called “The Story of I AM,” which recounts this heroic stand against bigotry and injustice. Through…

Read the full article here

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