Baxter Leach, one of the 1968 sanitation workers who sparked a movement in Memphis, has died

Local News

MEMPHIS, Tenn. ( – Family, friends, and Mid-South leaders are mourning the death of one of the 1968 sanitation workers who went on strike, spearheading a movement that would bring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to Memphis.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland tweeted out that Baxter Leach, 79, has passed away. “Getting to know the 1968 sanitation workers and their families has been an honor. My heart is heavy after learning of the passing of Baxter Leach. He was a great man whose courageous actions made Memphis better. On behalf of a grateful city, we send condolences to his family,” Strickland tweeted.

Leach and more than 1300 of his fellow Memphis sanitation workers went on strike in 1968, holding ‘I Am A Man’ signs and demanding better pay and better working conditions. During the more than 60-day strike, an assassin killed Doctor King, and demonstrations turned into violent clashes.

Five men who took part in the Memphis sanitation workers strike in 1968 wait for a ceremony to begin at the Mason Temple of the Church of God in Christ Tuesday, April 3, 2018, in Memphis, Tenn. From left are Cleophus Smith, Ozell Eual, Elmore Nickleberry, Baxter Richard Leach, and Rev. Leslie R. Moore. The church is where Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his final speech, which contained the phrase, “I’ve been to the mountaintop,” on April 3, 1968, the night before he was assassinated. King was in Memphis to support the striking workers. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Cleophus Smith, left, autographs a poster at the National Civil Rights Museum on Thursday, April 4, 2013, in Memphis, Tenn. The poster is a reproduction of the signs he and Alvin Turner, center, and Baxter Leach, right, carried when they were part of the 1968 sanitation workers strike in Memphis. Labor groups marched to the museum to call for better conditions on the 45th anniversary of the killing of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Among many other honors, Leach was one of the surviving sanitation workers who attended the opening of the “I Am A Man” plaza in downtown Memphis in April 2018, and was honored with the 49th NAACP Vanguard Award in January 2018.

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