Decades Later, Sanitation Workers Rewarded for Civil Rights Role

Labor News

Alvin Turner, the Reverend Leslie Moore, Elmore Nickleberry and Baxter Leach, from left, pose for a photo at the headquarters of Local 1733 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees on Thursday, March 14, 2013 in Memphis, Tennessee. The men participated in a sanitation workers strike in 1968 that drew the support of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated in Memphis on April 4 of that year. The poster includes the strike's rallying cry, "I am a man." (AP Photos/Adrian Sainz)

Reprinted from National Public Radio by Noel King on July 29, 2017.

NOEL KING, HOST: The year after the 1967 Detroit riots, sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee, went on strike. They were demanding better pay and safer working conditions after two black workers were crushed to death by a malfunctioning truck.

ELMORE NICKLEBERRY: We were just fighting for equal payment and equal rights from the sanitation department.

KING: That is Elmore Nickleberry. He’s one of the 14 surviving workers who went on strike in February of ’68. He still works for the Memphis sanitation department today. And this month, he got a nice surprise from the city of Memphis – an unexpected windfall of $70,000.

NICKLEBERRY: It shocked me. Well, it did shock me ’cause they said we going to get it a long time ago, and we really never did get it. …

NPR 7/29

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Jeff Burman represents assistant editors on the Guild’s Board of Directors. He can be reached at

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