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Join the Nationwide Moment of Silence

Join the Nationwide Moment of Silence
By Pete Levine ·

Cities and towns across the country will fall silent on February 1, the start of Black History Month, in memory of the two Memphis sanitation workers whose deaths triggered the historic 1968 sanitation workers’ strike.

Fifty years ago, Echol Cole and Robert Walker were crushed to death in the compactor of a malfunctioning garbage truck as they sought shelter from a storm. Their warnings – and the warnings of their fellow AFSCME Local 1733 members – to the city of Memphis about dangerous working conditions had been long ignored.

Moment of Silence Set to Honor Memphis Sanitation Workers

Associated Press

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Rain was falling on Feb. 1, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, when two sanitation workers picking up trash sought shelter from the bad weather in the back of a city garbage truck.

The poorly-maintained truck’s compactor malfunctioned, crushing Echol Cole and Robert Walker to death.

Fed up with bad working conditions, low pay and a lack of benefits, 1,300 black sanitation workers went on strike. Their walk-out drew support from civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., who came to Memphis, where he was fatally shot on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel on April 4, the day after he seemingly foretold his own death in his famed “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech at the Mason Temple.

At 1 p.m. EST on Thursday, mayors and elected officials in more than 25 U.S. cities are expected to observe a moment of silence to honor the 50th anniversary of the workers’ death, their pivotal strike and King’s legacy.

Sanitation drivers plan to pull over and people are expected to gather and bow their heads in silence during the demonstration, organized by the “I Am 2018” campaign, which is led by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; and the Church of God in Christ. …

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Their deaths sparked the walkout of 1,300 fellow sanitation workers. That pivotal strike brought Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to Memphis in April 1968 to support their cause – a fight for safer working conditions, better wages and for dignity. It was in Memphis that Dr. King was assassinated on April 4.

From Albuquerque to Atlanta, Miami to Memphis and in dozens more cities, garbage trucks will come to a stop as civic leaders, faith leaders, community activists, public works departments and unions stand in solidarity and silence with one another to honor the sacrifice of Cole and Walker, whose deaths shine a light – even 50 years later – on the need to honor the sacrifices made by public service workers every day.

The Moment of Silence is part of a broader I AM 2018 campaign jointly sponsored by AFSCME and the Church of God In Christ (COGIC). The I AM 2018 campaign is a grassroots voter education and mobilization campaign that will train thousands of activists to create change in their communities and carry on the legacy of Dr. King and the sanitation workers.

It’s not too late to join others who’ve committed to observing a moment of silence. Learn more at

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