February 1, 1968, was a cold and rainy day in Memphis, Tennessee. AFSCME sanitation workers Echol Cole and Robert Walker, nearing the end of their work day, huddled in the back of their truck to seek shelter from the weather.
Suddenly, the truck’s compacting gears malfunctioned, trapping the men and crushing them to death. One witness to the horrifying scene said, “It looked like the big thing just swallowed” them.
This unspeakable tragedy triggered a strike of the city’s 1,300 sanitation workers. They had warned the city about dangerous equipment, but were ignored. They were fed up with poverty wages and humiliating working conditions. They walked off the job and marched under the proud, defiant banner: I AM A MAN.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. traveled to Memphis to rally the community and show solidarity with the strikers. At the Mason Temple, headquarters of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), he delivered his famous “Mountaintop” speech. The next evening, he was assassinated as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.
AFSCME and COGIC have launched a new initiative called I AM 2018 to commemorate these historic events and connect them to today’s challenges. On February 1, 2018, 50 years to the day since the accident that killed Echol Cole and Robert Walker, we will observe a moment of silence around the country to honor their memory and sacrifice.
Spread the word and join us, wherever you are, for a five-minute tribute featuring streamed live on Facebook.
Reflect on Cole and Walker’s lives and the courage of all the Memphis strikers. And carry forward their legacy by recommitting to the struggle for racial and economic justice.
To find more ways to participate in the movement, visit I AM 2018