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#EverydayBlackHistory Day 6- Black Sanitation Workers’ Strikes

i am manMany of us are aware that Dr. Marin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, TN. But do you know why Dr. King was in Memphis at that time?

On February 1, 1968, there was a severe rainstorm in Memphis, TN. Echols Cole and Robert Walker, two black sanitation workers, took cover from the storm in the trash compactor of their truck. Somehow, the compactor mechanism was triggered and the men were crushed to death. A bereavement fee was paid from the Memphis government to the families of Echols Cole and Robert Walker but it wasn’t even enough to cover the costs of their funerals.

Also on February 1, 1968 (timeline), due to the weather, 22 black sanitation workers were sent home without pay. However, their white supervisors continued to work and were paid. So on February 12, more than 1,100 out of 1,300 black sanitation workers began a strike for job safety, better wages and benefits, and union recognition. The mayor at the time, Henry Loeb, was completely against their demands.

As the strike continued, the black community of Memphis came together to support the strikers. Organizations like COME (Community on the Move for Equality) developed food and clothing banks in churches, collected donations to pay the strikers rent and mortgages, and recruited marchers to participate in demonstrations. Then Reverend James Lawson, pastor of the Centenary Methodist Church in Memphis, invited Dr. King to join in support of the strikers. Reverend James Lawson was an experienced activist in the Civil Rights Movement and trained activists in nonviolent resistance.

On April 3, 1968, Dr. King delivered his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech to strikers and supporters. He was scheduled to also lead a march while in Memphis but on April 4, 1968, when he stepped onto the balcony of his room at the Lorraine Hotel, Dr. King was assassinated.

On April 16, 1968, two months after the start of the strike, an agreement was reached between city and union officials and the strikers, and the strike ended. While Dr. King played a role in the success of the black sanitation workers strike, we must acknowledge and commend the 1,100 plus workers and their families that sacrificed their means and livelihood to gain fair treatment and equality. Marchers often carried the iconic “I AM A MAN” signs, demonstrating that they not only wanted better wages and safer working conditions, but they were fighting for the recognition of their humanity.

Today, we remember the black sanitation workers’ strike and all the unsung heroes and heroins for their resistance and commitment to equality. We admire the black community of Memphis for the indescribable coming together and support that they demonstrated that led to their success.

#EverydayBlackHistory

 

 

By Aleidra Allen

Aleidra Allen is a social change advocate and entrepreneur. With a background in higher education administration, Aleidra served as a higher education practitioner for 4 years. During that time, she coordinated leadership programs and multicultural education, and advised student organizations and fraternities and sororities, . However, as society entered into the current social movement, Aleidra’s career was redirected.

In September of 2017, Aleidra took a leap of faith and left higher education to start her own business. She is now the founder and owner of PIE, which stands for Purpose In Everything. PIE is a start-up social enterprise that sells every day products, adding purpose to the purchases by donating 5% of its net sales to fund social change work. The products are also ethically made, being sweatshop-free, and many of them are environmentally friendly.

PIE is committed to social justice, with the goal of inspiring consumers to contribute to social change through conscious and intentional buying. You can follow PIE on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter: @piemovement, and visit the PIE website at www.piemovement.com to #BuyOnPurpose. If you are interested in having Aleidra facilitate diversity and inclusion trainings/workshops for you school, organization, or corporation, please email info@piemovement.com.

Aleidra has shared her perspectives on larger platforms as a repeating guest on HuffPost Live. She has also been published on Watch The Yard and Blavity.

Aleidra received her Bachelor of Science in Community Communications and Leadership Development from the University of Kentucky (UK). She later earned her Master of Arts in Education (specialization in Higher Education Administration) from Louisiana State University (LSU). Aleidra is a board member for Continuity, an active member of the Gamma Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., a “Big” in Big Brothers Big Sisters, and a member of the choir at Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis, MO.

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