On Tuesday, January 9, the fourteen surviving sanitation workers who participated in the pivotal 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike were honored by the NAACP in Memphis and received the organization’s vaunted Vanguard Award in conjunction with the 49th NAACP Image Awards, scheduled to take place in Pasadena, CA on January 15th and broadcast live on TV ONE.
The NAACP is the first major organization to recognize the workers as part of the “I AM 2018” campaign launched by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the Church of God In Christ (COGIC). The campaign is designed to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the strikers, in observance of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. King, who was in Memphis to support the workers in April of 1968.
According to the NAACP, the Vanguard Award is an “Honor presented in recognition of the groundbreaking work that has increased understanding and awareness of racial and social issues.” Previous honorees include Tyler Perry, Aretha Franklin, Stanley Kramer, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.
Retired AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer, William “Bill” Lucy, was a leader in organizing the Memphis sanitation workers in 1968. On January 15, he will be presented with the prestigious NAACP Chairman’s Award during the Image Awards broadcast.
“We are humbled and honored that the NAACP has chosen to honor the Memphis workers as well as Bill Lucy,” said Lee Saunders, President of AFSCME. “Imagine the courage it took for African-American municipal employees in the Jim Crow South to defy the local power structure and go on strike – not just for a living wage, and not just for decent working conditions. These brave men were striking to demand dignity and respect; to demand racial justice and economic justice.”
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. “I AM A MAN” was the slogan that the 1968 striking sanitation workers adopted to bring shine a light on their degrading working conditions and to assert their humanity. The I AM 2018 campaign will continue the unfinished work of confronting prejudice, poverty and advancing the freedom of all working people today.
“As we approach the 50th anniversary of these history-making events, we need to tell the story of Memphis again,” said Saunders. “I AM 2018 is about drawing inspiration from the heroes of Memphis, but it isn’t just a reflection on the past. It’s an urgent call to fight poverty and prejudice, an urgent call to advance the freedom of all working people and to remind America of the inextricable link between racial justice and economic justice.”