On August 26, 2023, the United States celebrated the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington. Recognized as a critical moment in the civil rights movement, it was at its core a march to address systemic racism in our labor and employment laws. Envisioned by A. Phillip Randolph, a well-known labor leader, to protest racial discrimination in employment against Black Americans, it was alternatively known as the March of Jobs and Freedom. Over a quarter million people led by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Congress of Racial Equality, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the National Urban League descended on the Capitol and heard the now famous “I Have a Dream” speech from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Not long thereafter, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law, Title VII of which prohibits discrimination in employment based on race, ethnicity, sex, color, and religion.
Less than four years later, on February 12, 1968, the sanitation worker strike began in Memphis after the deaths of two Black workers. Mostly Black workers, the sanitation workers made $1.60 an hour as laborers and $1.90 an hour as garbage truck drivers, often working unpaid overtime, forcing them to take second jobs to make ends meet. They demanded increased wages, overtime pay, increased safety, and other protections. Led by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the NAACP, they marched with signs in black and white stating “I AM A MAN.” On April 3, 1968, Dr. King came to Memphis and made his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech the day before he was assassinated in support of the striking workers. The strike ended on April 16, 1968, with a settlement including union recognition and increased wages.