MEMPHIS, Tenn. — It’s been 52 years since Memphis sanitation workers marched for equal rights and their lives. Police used tear gas and Billy clubs to try to stop the striking workers.
One of those workers was Elmore Nickleberry.
He is 88 years old and just retired from the city sanitation department last year. He said he’s seeing “the past going on now” as he watches coverage of protests calling for an end to police brutality.
Nickleberry is one of the hundreds of black sanitation workers who fought a brutal and bloody battle for equality, better pay, and safer working conditions in 1968.
He had just returned to Memphis from serving in the Army, in Korea.
“I’d been overseas, Korea, and I seen a hard time in Korea. Seen things I’d never seen in my life. I come back to Memphis and see some of the things I tried to forget but I still had to march for what I want. “
The weeks of strikes and protests are where the “I am a Man” campaign was born.
“We were fighting for our rights, that’s what we were fighting for. Some of our rights we got and some we didn’t.”
52 years later, Nickleberry watches as a new generation picks up the torch in the “I am a Man” Plaza. It’s dedicated to the sanitation workers.
Nickleberry said, “I see now that the past is going on now…still going on. We gotta keep on fighting. We still fighting for our rights.”
This time the fight is sparked by a video of a man who died after a police officer pinned his neck to the ground with his knee. “It’s bad. See anybody do a man like that. Eight minutes? That’s a long time. Try to hold your breath for 8 minutes. That’s a long time. “
Nickleberry said he respects police and knows there are, “good ones” and “bad ones.”
He said, “I’m still surprised but I always say this- I come up the right way. I believe in treating people right. I believe in doing the right thing between people.”
Nickleberry said he retired from the Sanitation Department last year. He made history as the longest-serving city worker.
He said he is still ready to get out and march for justice if it’s the right thing to do.
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