Memphis Sanitation Workers' Deaths Offers Lessons for Today and Tomorrow


Yesterday remembering the death of Memphis Sanitation Workers 50 years ago was important. Today let us continue by facing and uprooting the deep-seated racism that was connected with the death of these sanitation workers.

Several weeks ago I heard the comments below that extended my understanding of the life of those we remembered yesterday. I have CAPITALIZED the words that strike me most forcibly and guide my actions.

"The strike started because two of the sanitation workers were crushed to death in the back of a cylinder garbage truck, when THEY WERE NOT ALLOWED to seek shelter in rainstorms, because they were ALL BLACK, and THE RULES DID NOT ALLOW them to seek shelter in any white neighborhood, BECAUSE IT OFFENDED WHITE PEOPLE. And the ONLY PLACE they could find shelter is in the garbage, with THE GARBAGE itself. And a broom fell and hit a lever and compacted them, literally crushed them.

That’s the origins of “I Am a Man,” meaning they picked that slogan because the whole strike was — it was economic, but it was also just ESSENTIAL DIGNITY. They were being CRUSHED LIKE THE GARBAGE that they were picking up, and nobody cared."

—Taylor Branch on "Democracy Now!"
January 25, 2018