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Wayne State University launches online exhibit commemorating 44th anniversary of 1968 sanitation workers strike

March 30, 2012

“I AM A MAN” becomes strikers' hallmark phrase

Wayne State University's Walter P. Reuther Library and WSU University Libraries are proud to make available an online exhibit documenting the 1968 sanitation workers strike in Memphis, Tenn. This online experience captures the landmark struggle that significantly influenced the American labor and civil rights movements. 

The exhibit contains historic documents and photographs of the events in Memphis, along with video clips from a symposium held at Wayne State University in 2003 that commemorated the 35th anniversary of the strike. These clips show past American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Secretary-Treasurer William Lucy and strike participants Rev. James S. Lawson, Jesse Epps and Taylor Rogers sharing their thoughts on this historic event. The exhibit's link is http://dlxs.lib.wayne.edu/iamaman/.

In February 1968, the sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn., almost all African Americans, voted to strike against the city. The workers sought better working conditions and recognition of their union, AFSCME Local 1733. The mayor declared the strike illegal and refused to negotiate. The workers remained on strike for 65 days, enduring mace, beatings and arrests. They also carried signs with what became the hallmark phrase of the demonstration: I AM A MAN.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Memphis to support the strikers and led a demonstration that was marred by looting and violence. Disappointed but resolute, King promised to return to Memphis to lead a non-violent march. He returned and delivered his famous "I've been to the mountaintop" speech. On April 4, 1968, 44 years ago this week, however, before he could lead the strikers in a non-violent march, King was assassinated by a sniper.

For more information, please contact Johanna Russ, AFSCME Archivist at Wayne State University's Walter P. Reuther Library: 313-577-0147 or eb5801@wayne.edu.

Wayne State University is a premier urban research institution offering more than 400 academic programs through 13 schools and colleges to nearly 32,000 students.

  • Contact: Johanna Russ
  • Voice: 313-577-0147
  • Email: eb5801@wayne.edu
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