by Roberta Lynch, Executive Director
As you may know, April 4 will mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Dr. King was in Memphis on that day in 1968 to support more than 1,000 striking sanitation workers, the founding members of AFSCME Local 1733, in their struggle for dignity and justice. After enduring years of poverty wages, mandatory unpaid overtime, dangerous working conditions, and employer disrespect, these workers stood up together to demand fair treatment.
AFSCME is working with the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) to plan a series of events in Memphis and around the country—known as “I AM 2018”– to commemorate the life of Dr. King and the watershed strike of the Memphis sanitation workers. This initiative is about connecting the historic battles of 1968 with the challenges that we face today and the continuing struggles to achieve justice for all.
The first of these events will be a nationwide Moment of Silence on Thursday, February 1to commemorate the deaths of Echol Cole and Robert Walker, two sanitation workers who were crushed to death in the compactor of a malfunctioning, obsolete truck on that date in 1968. They were just 36 and 30 years old respectively and the city provided no workers’ compensation or pension benefits to their families. It was their tragic deaths that sparked the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike, with its powerful message: “I Am A Man”.
We hope that all Council 31 local unions will participate in this “Moment of Silence” on February 1. Some activities to consider:
· Provide your members with information about the Memphis sanitation strikers and Identify a specific time that all those in your local will pause together for a minute of reflection.
· Hold a brief program before or after work, or over the lunch hour, which would include a moment of silence, as well reflections from you and other local leaders about the meaning of the historic strike and Dr. King’s legacy for all of us today.
· If you work in local government, a nonprofit agency, or a university, consider asking your employer to cooperate with you and to join in making the Moment of Silence (or a brief program) part of the work day.
We have attached a prototype flyer to which you can add information about a specific time or other activities for your local members as part of this historic commemoration. If you have any questions or need additional information, please contact Joanna Webb-Gauvin in the Springfield office or Adrienne Alexander in the Chicago office.