How the 1968 Sanitation Workers’ Strike Expanded the Civil Rights Struggle

How the 1968 Sanitation Workers’ Strike Expanded the Civil Rights Struggle

On February 12, 1968, 1,300 black sanitation workers in Memphis began a strike demanding better working conditions and higher wages. Their position marked an early fight for financial justice for workers of color as part of the civil rights movement. The strike also drew Martin Luther King, Jr. and fatally became the setting for his “I Was on the Top of the Mountain” speech and his assassination.

Hauling trash, sometimes in the pouring rain, was heavy and dirty work. Yet the city of Memphis expected garbage collectors to work long hours for meager pay and no overtime pay. Their pay, 65 cents an hour, was so low that many were eligible for social assistance and food stamps.

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