Martin Luther King Day celebrates the birth of the country’s most famous civil rights leader. This year is the fiftieth anniversary of his death. Now the union that represents thousands of public-sector employees in Minnesota is reminding America that workers died for the cause that year too.
AFSCME is calling for a moment of silence at 4:20 p.m. Thursday – the time Echol Cole and Robert Walker were crushed to death by their garbage truck. Jennifer Munt with AFSCME Council 5 says their deaths led to the protest that Dr. King attended right before he was killed. “It was the heart of the Jim Crow South,” she explained, “African-American sanitation workers were called ‘boy.’ They faced poverty wages and degrading working conditions and the city refused to recognize their union or even their humanity.”
The garbage workers strike started a few days after Cole and Walker were killed. It was settled on April 16 – 12 days after the death of Dr. King.
The moment of silence is as much a call to action as a remembrance and Munt said, “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.”
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.