The ugly Memphis sanitation workers’ strike that led to MLK’s assassination


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  • F H Mughal
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Importance of Sanitation

Importance of Sanitation

Last week, newspapers ran story on Martin Luther King Jr. One such story is by the Washington Post:

What caught my attention was that Martin Luther King was supporting the sanitation workers’ strike. According to the Post:

The rain was torrential, flooding streets and overflowing sewers. Still, the Memphis public works department required its sanitation workers — all black men — to continue to work in the downpour Feb. 1, 1968.

That day, two sanitation workers, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, took shelter from the rain in the back of their garbage truck. As Cole and Walker rode in the back of the truck, an electrical switch malfunctioned. The compactor turned on.

Cole and Walker were crushed by the garbage truck compactor. The public works department refused to compensate their families.
Eleven days after their deaths, as many as 1,300 black sanitation workers in Memphis walked off the job, protesting horrible working conditions, abuse, racism and discrimination by the city, according to the King Institute at Stanford University.
The Memphis sanitation workers’ strike would win the support of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. — and lead to his assassination less than two months later.

In addition to the civil rights issue, the story goes to show the importance of sanitation. Sanitation had importance back in 1968. It is rather sad to note that, these days, the sanitation is not receiving the importance that it should get. 1968 events should be an eye-opener for us.

F H Mughal
F H Mughal (Mr.)
Karachi, Pakistan
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