Edmundson Examines Sanitation Strike

In celebration of Black History Month, junior Tyler Edmundson delved into the background of the 1968 Memphis sanitation strike and noted that the city is filled with history and historical sites.
Edmundson chronicled how the movement started with the accidental deaths of sanitation workers Robert Walker and Echol Cole on February 1. The men had sought shelter from the rain in the back of their garbage truck when the compactor malfunctioned. He went on to look at the protests that followed as workers fought for a union to call for higher wages and more humane treatment.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. traveled to Memphis March 18 to assist with the protests. “He delivered a speech promising a march in 10 days, and he told the sanitation workers they were men,” Edmundson said. The famous “I Am A Man” slogan, which strikers wore on sandwich boards as they marched, was born here.

This visual along with the return of Dr. King to Memphis elevated the Shelby County strike to national news.

Edmundson played a portion of Dr. King’s “Mountaintop” speech, delivered April 3 at the Mason Temple in support of the sanitation workers. The following morning, he was shot on the balcony of his room at the Lorraine Motel.

“After King’s death President Lyndon B. Johnson sent James Reynolds, the undersecretary of labor, to Memphis as an authoritative third party for negotiations. On April 16, the union was finally recognized, and raises were agreed to.”

Edmundson stressed that history is easily accessible in Memphis. To prove this, he showed a video depicting his 3-mile run from 6191 Park Avenue to the corner of Colonial and Verne, where there is a historical marker commemorating the site where Walker and Cole tragically lost their lives.

“You don’t have to travel 700 miles or run 3, here in Memphis there is a ton of history … be curious or at the very least look around you.”