Book and film review:
Over time, since the tragic death of Martin Luther King in 1968, commemorations of his legacy have, dare we say it, left current generations wondering, "who was this man?" The reality is that many commemorations have sanitized and packaged his story, offered up bland community service projects for one day in January, and ignored his bold challenges to the status quo of his time, and ours today.
That is one reason why the Occupational Health Clinical Center acquired and will loan out the film, "At the River I Stand," and for those who wish to go deeper, recommend Going Down Jericho Road, to learn, to discern, and to consider what all this means for workers, especially workers of color, today.
The book focuses on the wildcat sanitation workers strike of 1300 workers in Memphis. These were the men who, after the wholly preventable deaths of two of their co-workers, reclaimed their humanity. Echol Cole, 36, and Robert Walker, 30, were crushed in the back of a garbage truck on February 1, 1968. A complaint about this particular faulty truck had been filed prior to this incident, but had been ignored by the city.
The workers' deaths was the last straw for many of the sanitation workers. There is no doubt that King's involvement in their work stoppage was critically important; but what must not be overlooked (and what this book details) is the confluence of Memphis' black community, its union allies, and the passion of the workers themselves that made lasting change--not just in Memphis, but in the nation.
The lessons of this strike are worth re-visiting in some detail for what was achieved speaks profoundly to the present if we care to listen. Our strategies, our challenges, and our solutions will be different because these times are different and globalization has resulted in new forms of dehumanization.
If you wish to show "At the River I Stand" to your group, you may contact: the OHCC-CNY at (315) 432-8899 or the OHCC-ST at (607) 584-9990. We can loan you a copy of the DVD, and assist your group in exploring how to prevent workplace fatality, illness and injury.