Baxter Leach, prominent member of “I Am A Man” sanitation worker strike in 1968, dies

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (localmemphis.com) – Baxter Leach died Tuesday morning at the age of 79. He will be remembered for his passion in demanding better work conditions and living wages for sanitation workers in Memphis. 

Leach, along with over a thousand sanitation workers, went on strike in 1968 to protest the low wages and conditions they experienced on the job. They held signs that read, I Am A Man and demand for better.

Last year at the I Am Man plaza dedication in downtown Memphis, Local 24 News spoke with Leach about the civil rights struggles he and his fellow workers faced. 

“Stand up for something, not out on the street selling drugs and shooting, all that kind of stuff. That’s what I say to young folks, stand up for your man.” Leach said.

Vickie Terry, executive director of the NAACP’s Memphis branch, said Leach is her hero for his passion in what he fought for.

“He fought for what was right for his people, the sanitation workers,” Terry said. “He believed in that and he believed in them being treated like men and when they said, ‘I Am A Man,’ it hit home to me because you could feel his passion.”

Terry was a friend of Leach’s for many years and said she learned so much about civil rights history from him. She said the I Am A Man protest accomplished so much for civil rights, but the fight still continues today.

Leach continued to work for the sanitation department for 40 years and would speak with younger generations about the fight for civil rights. 

It was the I Am A Man strike that brought Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Memphis where he was assassinated. 

“I tell people all the time that if Martin Luther King had not come here, we wouldn’t have what we have now,” Leach said at last year’s dedication of the I Am A Man plaza. 

Terry said he treated everyone he met with kindness and love. She said his soul and his impact on history will never be forgotten.

“It was truly amazing how he and his family would treat everyone in this city with the same love and kindness,” Terry said. 

Leach and his family own Ms. Girlee Soulfood Restaurant. It will be closed until further notice for the passing of Leach.

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