The Workers of the Memphis Sanitation Strike (1968)
"I am a man."
In February of 1968, a century after emancipation, the shameful Jim Crow era was alive and well in the American South. In Memphis, African-Americans were shut out of jobs that paid an honest wage. For many black men, sanitation work was the only job they could get, but they did it proudly. When more than 1300 members of the city public works department tried to organize to improve their wages and working conditions, they were attacked. So they went on strike, taking a stand for human dignity with four simple words: "I am a man." Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. went to Memphis to march with the striking sanitation workers in his final crusade before his assassination. Following his death, the sanitation workers stayed true to their non-violent philosophy. After a peaceful march through downtown Memphis, they finally won their union rights – a watershed moment in the civil rights movement that sparked a wave of African-American unionization across the South.