1968. Memphis, Tennessee. The heart of the Jim Crow South.
African American sanitation workers were called “boy.” They faced poverty wages, a plantation-style work environment, and degrading, unsafe working conditions. The city refused to recognize their union, or even their basic humanity.
After two sanitation workers were crushed to death on the job, 1,300 of their AFSCME Local 1733 brothers stood together, risked everything, and went on strike. They demanded dignity and respect. They marched in the streets carrying placards with four simple, but powerful words: “I AM A MAN.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. traveled to Memphis to rally the community and express his solidarity because he understood the connection between labor rights, economic rights, human rights, and civil rights. On the evening of April 3 at the historic Mason Temple, the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) International Headquarters, Dr. King delivered his famous “Mountaintop” speech. Less than 24 hours later, he was gunned down on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of this watershed moment. On April 2-4, 2018, AFSCME, COGIC, and civil, human and workers’ rights leaders will gather in Memphis for a series of events honoring Dr. King’s legacy and the courage and sacrifice of the sanitation workers.
The I AM 2018 initiative is about drawing inspiration from the heroes of Memphis and connecting their struggle to today’s challenges.
I AM 2018 initiative isn’t just a reflection on the past; it’s a call to action for the future; an urgent call to fight poverty and prejudice, advance the freedom of all working people, and remind America that there can be no racial justice without economic justice and no economic justice without racial justice.
We are still fighting the same equality and justice. The dream has not been realized yet. Now, it is our turn to fight for the dream.
In solidarity, unite, come together.