Saturday, a special ceremony took place at the Cook Convention Center in downtown Memphis to honor the City of Memphis Sanitation Workers from 1968 and current workers.
Former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young, Reverend Jesse Jackson and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker were all in town for this momentous occasion. It’s one of the many events leading up to the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination on April 4.
The 1968 sanitation strike was initiated by the deaths of Robert Walker and Echol Cole. The two were crushed to death while working.
Former UN Ambassador and Civil Rights Icon, Andrew Young traveled to Memphis to participate in the strike and to fight for civil rights.
The atmosphere was one of fear and hostility on the part of the mayor and I’m glad we have the mayor here as a friend, I think there was tension in the entire Memphis community,” Young explained.
More than 1300 men walked off the job and participated in the strike that was initiated by the deaths but also by the workers’ wages and conditions.
Cheryl Fanion Cotton, seen here on this photo, remembers the strike vividly.
“I went on all the marches, all the mass meetings. In fact, my dad and I headed to the Lorraine the night he got killed, “Fanion-Cotton explained.
The sanitation workers of 1968 and current workers were recognized during a private ceremony.
“To me it’s one of those moments in American History that we have to continue to talk about. And understand how we got to where we are. Their courage, heroism every day Americans inspire us today to continue that fight,” said Senator Cory Booker, a Democrat who represents New Jersey.
The sanitation workers and other civil rights leaders work was not in vain, Former Ambassador Young and Reverend Jackson say they are proud of Memphis and what the city has become.
“We learned a lot, we shared a lot and in fact we are a better nation because of the struggles. We’re living in the new South. You couldn’t have the Memphis Grizzlies and Lakers in town tonight if we have not won,” said Reverend Jackson.
Former Ambassador Young and Reverend Jackson say they will be back here on April 4th for all the events for the 50th anniversary of Dr. Kings death.