This month marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination in Memphis. Dr. King went to Memphis 50 years ago to help black sanitation workers receive fair treatment in the workplace. The City of Memphis treated black sanitation workers far worse than white sanitation workers. White sanitation workers, for instance, could shower at work after they finished the filthy job of collecting people’s trash but black sanitation workers could not. The City also did not provide black sanitation workers with shelter from storms which led to two black sanitation workers getting crushed to death inside of a trash truck where they took shelter during a storm. To secure better working conditions, the black sanitation workers went on strike.
The union that these black sanitation workers formed back in the 1960s is still around today. That union is still trying to secure better working conditions for its members, including air conditioning in garbage trucks, better pay, and benefits for temporary employees.
Employment discrimination against black workers has changed a lot since 1968 but racial prejudice against black people still impacts the workplace. In Memphis, a majority black city, the poverty rate for black residents is twice the poverty rate for white residents. “I love Memphis. I’m so optimistic about our future,” said Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland. “But I don’t want to act like I’m ignorant of our challenges. Violent crime is way too high. Poverty is way too high. And too few kids are getting properly educated.”