The City of Tampa Solid Waste and Environmental Program Management team is paying tribute to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who advocated for the rights and welfare of solid waste workers. His fight for economic justice, particularly during the 1968 sanitation workers' strike in Memphis, Tennessee, continues to inspire solid waste professionals in Tampa and across the country.
His memory holds a special place in the hearts of those in the industry who recognize the challenges of the past and the ongoing struggle for fair treatment and safe working conditions.
February 1, 1968: Two Memphis garbage collectors were crushed to death by a malfunctioning truck. Thirteen hundred black men went on strike demanding recognition of their union, better safety standards, and a decent wage. Black sanitation workers were forced to use dilapidated trucks and work late-night shifts with no overtime pay.
February 12, 1968: Memphis sanitation and public works employees went on strike to receive a decent living wage and safe working conditions. They also demanded the recognition of their humanity and dignity by wearing "I Am a Man" signs.
March 18, 1968: Dr. King arrived in Memphis, Tennessee to address a growing crowd of about 25,000 strikers. King encouraged the group to support the sanitation strike by going on a citywide work stoppage, and he pledged to return a few days later to lead a protest through the city.
March 28, 1968: Dr. King led a march supporting the sanitation workers in downtown Memphis. Violence erupted during the march, and Dr. King was rushed from the scene. Dr. King vowed to return to Memphis to lead a peaceful march.
April 3, 1968: Dr. King returned to Memphis. Despite feeling ill, he addressed a crowd of dedicated sanitation workers and delivered his final sermon, "I've Been to the Mountaintop."
April 4, 1968: Dr. King was assassinated on the balcony of room 306 at the Lorraine Motel at 6:01 pm and pronounced dead at 7:05 pm at St. Joseph's Hospital. Riots erupted throughout the country as news of his death spread. President Lyndon B. Johnson charged Undersecretary of Labor James Reynolds with negotiating a solution and ending the strike.
April 8, 1968: An estimated 42,000 people led by Coretta Scott King, silently marched through Memphis in honor of King, demanding that the mayor gives into the union’s requests.
April 16, 1968: Negotiators finally reached a deal on allowing the City Council to recognize the union and guarantee a better wage. Although the deal brought the strike to an end, several months later the union had to threaten another strike to press the city to follow through with its commitment.
On Monday, January 16, 2023, the City of Tampa Solid Waste and Environmental Program Management team will be celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King in the City of Tampa's MLK Parade at Cuscaden Park, located at 2901 N. 15th St. Tampa. The Parade will start at noon and is open to the public.