Posted on February 15, 2018
*Click here for video of the senator’s remarks.*
WASHINGTON, February 15, 2018 – United States Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today spoke on the Senate floor about a Senate resolution he introduced Tuesday – along with Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Doug Jones (D-Ala.) – that recognizes the 50th anniversary of the 1968 strike of Memphis sanitation workers.
“1968 was a tumultuous year. Violent protests erupted in cities across the country; both Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and then-Senator and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated; and American soldiers were fighting in the Vietnam War. And in Memphis – African-American sanitation workers had faced years of hazardous working conditions and discrimination in pay and benefits,” Alexander said. “Their strike would become an historic event in the civil rights movement.”
Alexander continued: “On February 1, 1968, two sanitation workers – Echol Cole and Robert Walker – sought shelter from the pouring rain – and were crushed to death in their garbage truck when the compactor on the truck malfunctioned. Their deaths galvanized the 1,300 African-American sanitation workers who decided to begin their strike to protest working conditions on February 12, 1968. The workers demanded recognition of their union, increased pay, and safer working conditions. On April 3, 1968, Dr. King addressed a rally of 10,000 African-American workers and residents, members of the clergy, and union members at Mason Temple, the Memphis headquarters of the Church of God in Christ. The next day, April 4, 1968, Dr. King was assassinated as he stood on the balcony at the Lorraine Motel. Four days later, 42,000 people marched in Memphis, and the strike was resolved on April 16, 1968.”
Alexander concluded: “The 1,300 sanitation workers in Memphis took a stand for freedom, and they displayed a great deal of courage in their pursuit of equality. Now, fifty years later, I had the opportunity to introduce – along with a few of my Senate colleagues -- a resolution to recognize their sacrifice and contributions to the civil rights movement. It is important our children grow up learning about how these 1,300 Memphis sanitation workers – and many others – struggled for racial justice in the midst of all that chaos.”