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Photo: Richard L. Copley
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In 1968, Memphis sanitation workers went on strike to demand fair wages and safe working conditions. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. joined the strikers in solidarity and delivered his iconic “I Have Been to the Mountaintop” speech at the historic Mason Temple. Dr. King was assassinated the following day.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) have launched a major 18-month initiative to honor the events of 1968 and connect the legacy of the strikers and Dr. King to current issues facing our nation. The initiative will include organizing, community actions and strategic partnerships. As we move toward November 2018, we will build a movement of dedicated activists who can continue the unfinished work of realizing Dr. King’s dream.

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History of the Movement

In 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.

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