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Minnesotans Plan Pause to Remember

A mural in Memphis depicts the sanitation workers' strike 50 years ago. (Xzelenz/Wikimedia)
A mural in Memphis depicts the sanitation workers' strike 50 years ago. (Xzelenz/Wikimedia)
January 31, 2018

ST. PAUL, Minn. – This year marks the 50th anniversary of death of the slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

And the union that represents thousands of public sector employees in Minnesota is reminding America that workers died for the cause that year too.

AFSCME on Thursday is calling for a moment of silence at 4:20 p.m. – the time Echol Cole and Robert Walker were crushed to death by their trash hauling truck on Feb. 1, 1968.

Jennifer Munt, public affairs director for AFSCME Council 5, says the deaths Cole and Walker led to the protest that King attended right before he was killed.

"It was the heart of the Jim Crow South,” Munt points out. “African-American sanitation workers were called 'boy.' They faced poverty wages and degrading, unsafe working conditions and the city refused to recognize their union or even their humanity."

The sanitation workers strike started a few days after Cole and Walker were killed. It was settled on April 16 – 12 days after the death of King.

Munt says the moment of silence is as much a call to action as a remembrance.

"It's an urgent call to fight poverty and prejudice, to advance the freedom of all working people and to remind American that there can be no racial justice without economic justice and no economic justice without racial justice," she states.

Fifty years ago, many protesters held signs that said, simply, "I am a man."

This year's moment of silence marks the beginning of a campaign that runs through April.

To learn more, including how to host a moment of silence Thursday, go to IAm2018.org.


Laurie Stern, Public News Service - MN