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I Am A Man: Authoring History in Memphis
Unformatted Document Text:  I Am a Man 1968, during a rainstorm, two workers were trying to stay dry in the back of one of the trucks when an electrical short caused it to malfunction. Despite their efforts to escape, the crusher activated and pulled the men to their deaths. A local newspaper reported that they were “ground up like garbage.” 7 Unwilling to tolerate such conditions and infuriated by the city’s inadequate compensation to the victims’ families, all of the workers voted to go on strike. The black community, which made up about 40 percent of the city, rallied around the workers, and a local group of ministers helped organize support. One of the ministers was James Lawson, an experienced proponent of Gandhian nonviolence and a longtime friend of Dr. King. At Lawson’s invitation, King, who was then busy preparing for his Poor People’s Campaign, came to speak on March 18 at a rally for the strikers. Over ten thousand people listened to him rail against the exploitive conditions of the workers and tie the struggle for equality to economic justice. King’s presence at the strike and his impassioned argument for a just resolution to the conflict lifted the spirits of the workers and sustained them at a time when Memphis Mayor Henry Loeb was stonewalling all attempts at negotiation. 8 King returned to Memphis on March 28 to lead a march of the strikers and their supporters. Greeted by hundreds of workers carrying signs that read “I Am a Man,” King took his place at the front of the procession. An intimidating police presence and acts of vandalism and looting by a local gang unaffiliated with the strike caused the march to disband prematurely. When a shotgun blast from police lethally wounded a sixteen-year-old boy later that day, the city erupted in riots. Four thousand national guardsmen came to restore order, and a judge enjoined 7 Ibid, p. 157. 8 Michael K. Honey, Black Workers Remember (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999). P. 292. 7

Authors: Peters, Benjamin.
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I Am a Man
1968, during a rainstorm, two workers were trying to stay dry in the back of one of the trucks
when an electrical short caused it to malfunction. Despite their efforts to escape, the crusher
activated and pulled the men to their deaths. A local newspaper reported that they were “ground
up like garbage.”
Unwilling to tolerate such conditions and infuriated by the city’s inadequate
compensation to the victims’ families, all of the workers voted to go on strike. The black
community, which made up about 40 percent of the city, rallied around the workers, and a local
group of ministers helped organize support. One of the ministers was James Lawson, an
experienced proponent of Gandhian nonviolence and a longtime friend of Dr. King. At
Lawson’s invitation, King, who was then busy preparing for his Poor People’s Campaign, came
to speak on March 18 at a rally for the strikers. Over ten thousand people listened to him rail
against the exploitive conditions of the workers and tie the struggle for equality to economic
justice. King’s presence at the strike and his impassioned argument for a just resolution to the
conflict lifted the spirits of the workers and sustained them at a time when Memphis Mayor
Henry Loeb was stonewalling all attempts at negotiation.
King returned to Memphis on March 28 to lead a march of the strikers and their
supporters. Greeted by hundreds of workers carrying signs that read “I Am a Man,” King took
his place at the front of the procession. An intimidating police presence and acts of vandalism
and looting by a local gang unaffiliated with the strike caused the march to disband prematurely.
When a shotgun blast from police lethally wounded a sixteen-year-old boy later that day, the city
erupted in riots. Four thousand national guardsmen came to restore order, and a judge enjoined
7
Ibid, p. 157.
8
Michael K. Honey, Black Workers Remember (Berkeley: University of California Press,
1999). P. 292.
7


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