After two sanitation workers, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, were crushed to death on the job on February 1, 1968, 1,300 members of AFSCME stood together and went on strike to demand dignity and respect. They marched in the streets carrying signs with four powerful words: "I AM A MAN."
Fifty years later, on the anniversary of the accident, over 100 cities across the country recognized this day with their union brothers and sisters, local elected officials, sanitation workers, as well as community and faith-based leaders with events hosted at city halls and public works yards. OPEIU Local 2 and AFGE staff joined with others to commemorate the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike and to honor the life of Echol Cole and Robert Walker.
At the AFGE national office, the "I AM" Moment of Silence program began with a welcome from AFGE Vice President for Women and Fair Practices Augusta Thomas, a civil rights champion who was a classmate of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and joined the sit-ins in Greensboro in 1960. The program was followed by a remark by AFGE President J. David Cox Sr., reflection of the sanitation workers strike, and Moment of Silence observation.
The National Moment of Silence is part of AFSCME’s I AM 2018 initiative that draws inspiration from the heroes of Memphis and connecting their struggle to today’s challenges. After the sanitation workers went on strike, Dr. King traveled to Memphis to join the strikers, future members of AFSCME Local 1733. He delivered his famous “Mountaintop” speech on April 3 at the historic Mason Temple, the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) International Headquarters. Less than 24 hours later, he was assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. The I AM 2018 initiative marks the 50th anniversary of this watershed moment.
AFSCME, COGIC, and civil and workers’ rights leaders will gather in Memphis on April 2-4 for a series of events honoring Dr. King’s legacy and the courage of the sanitation workers. AFGE leaders and members will be there to show our support and help move our civil and labor rights movement forward.
The April 2-4 events are open to everyone. For more information, visit www.Iam2018.org
Can’t make it to Memphis? There are multiple ways you can join.