Recalls sacrifices made by Memphis Sanitation Workers 50 years ago
WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) marked the start of Black History Month today with a wreath-laying at the site of the deaths of Sanitation Workers Robert Walker and Echol Cole, who lost their lives on February 1, 1968, when they were crushed inside a garbage truck while attempting to avoid a downpour. He made the following statement:
“Memphis always begins Black History Month remembering the loss of Sanitation Workers Echol Cole and Robert Walker, but this year’s 50th anniversary brings with it a special solemnity. Black history in Memphis also recalls giants of the Civil Rights movement such as Ida B. Wells (1862-1931) whose The Memphis Free Speech newspaper railed against lynching in the Jim Crow South, Tom Lee’s heroism in saving 32 passengers of the sinking steamboat M.E. Norman in 1925, all the way through fights for quality schools, voting rights and fair housing taken on by the likes of Maxine and Vasco Smith, Benjamin Hooks, Cleo Kirk, Walter Bailey, Russell Sugarmon, Jesse Turner Sr., A.W. Willis and Harold Ford Sr., among so many more. Along the way, Memphis contributed to the history of black music with W.C. Handy, B.B. King, Phineas Newborn, Ma Rainey, Furry Lewis, Memphis Slim, Memphis Minnie, Little Laura Dukes, Ruby Wilson and all the blues artists who played on Beale Street and jukes around town. Memphian Robert R. Church became the first black millionaire in the South.
“This week, I introduced a Congressional Resolution honoring the memory of the Sanitation Workers Strike of 1968 which spells out the rich black history that began to unfold in Memphis on this day 50 years ago and culminated in the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The resolution commemorates a long list of conscientious lawyers, volunteers, ministers and supporters, and the strikers themselves, who ultimately brought the strike to an end – but at such a tragic cost.
“Memphis appears in chapter after chapter of American History, and I am always pleased, February and every other month, to celebrate Memphis and Memphians.”