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I Am A Man: Authoring History in Memphis
Unformatted Document Text:  I Am a Man King’s sacrifice and death in Memphis were not in vain. Not only did he demonstrate the liberatory potential of a nonviolent praxis premised on intersubjectivity, he also helped to turn the tide in the strike, bolstering the workers and drawing national attention to their shared struggle for justice. Taylor Rogers, a sanitation worker interviewed by labor historian Michael Honey, recalled the impact of King’s first speech in Memphis reporting, “It made the community more up and ready . . . ready to keep on pushing to get something done. His speech brought people out, brought poor people together.” 37 Memphis labor organizer William Lucy recognizing King’s role in exposing the social contradiction between being a man and being an object said, “you had folks that worked every single day, yet there was no opportunity whatsoever to succeed, by virtue of the social structure and exploitation that they experienced on the job.” 38 Clearly, King’s support of the striking workers reconfirmed that “I Am a Man” meant a radical reinterpretation of the social order. CONCLUSION On April 16, 1968, twelve days after King s death and sixty-five days after the start of the strike, the 1300 sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee reached an agreement with the municipal government. Bypassing the mayor, the City Council changed city policy to include recognition of the men s union, a pay raise, and dues check-off. The workers voted to accept the agreement. They had suffered harassment, police intimidation and brutality, and the double objectification of racism and capitalist exploitation. They had lost their determined advocate, Dr. King, but they had gained at least the recognition of their shared humanity. Their victory serves, 37 Taylor Rogers quoted in Michael K. Honey, Black Workers Remember (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1999), pp. 299-300. 38 William Lucy quoted in Michael K. Honey, Black Workers Remember (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1999), p. 318. 20

Authors: Peters, Benjamin.
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I Am a Man
King’s sacrifice and death in Memphis were not in vain. Not only did he demonstrate the
liberatory potential of a nonviolent praxis premised on intersubjectivity, he also helped to turn
the tide in the strike, bolstering the workers and drawing national attention to their shared
struggle for justice. Taylor Rogers, a sanitation worker interviewed by labor historian Michael
Honey, recalled the impact of King’s first speech in Memphis reporting, “It made the community
more up and ready . . . ready to keep on pushing to get something done. His speech brought
people out, brought poor people together.”
Memphis labor organizer William Lucy
recognizing King’s role in exposing the social contradiction between being a man and being an
object said, “you had folks that worked every single day, yet there was no opportunity
whatsoever to succeed, by virtue of the social structure and exploitation that they experienced on
the job.”
Clearly, King’s support of the striking workers reconfirmed that “I Am a Man” meant
a radical reinterpretation of the social order.
CONCLUSION
On April 16, 1968, twelve days after King s death and sixty-five days after the start of the
strike, the 1300 sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee reached an agreement with the
municipal government. Bypassing the mayor, the City Council changed city policy to include
recognition of the men s union, a pay raise, and dues check-off. The workers voted to accept the
agreement. They had suffered harassment, police intimidation and brutality, and the double
objectification of racism and capitalist exploitation. They had lost their determined advocate, Dr.
King, but they had gained at least the recognition of their shared humanity. Their victory serves,
37
Taylor Rogers quoted in Michael K. Honey, Black Workers Remember (Berkeley,
California: University of California Press, 1999), pp. 299-300.
38
William Lucy quoted in Michael K. Honey, Black Workers Remember (Berkeley,
California: University of California Press, 1999), p. 318.
20


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