(WASHINGTON, DC) –Today, Mayor Muriel Bowser and the DC Department of Public Works (DPW) joined select cities across the country in partnership with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the Church of God in Christ to observe a “National Moment of Silence” in honor of the 50th anniversary of the tragic deaths of Echol Cole and Robert Walker, which triggered the historic 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike, as well as the subsequent assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Today, we remember and honor the lives of Echol Cole and Robert Walker and stand in solidarity for fair and just conditions for all workers,” said Mayor Bowser. “The fight for racial and economic justice brought Dr. King to Memphis in 1968, and fifty years after his death, it is our commitment to these same values that brings us together today.”
On February 1, 1968 Memphis sanitation workers Echol Cole and Robert Walker were riding in the back of their sanitation truck when it malfunctioned, crushing them to death. The tragedy highlighted the lack of safe working conditions and prompted thousands to rally in Memphis in support of sanitation workers. The events were supported by AFSCME unions across the country and the People’s Campaign. That spring, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. traveled to Memphis to join the strikers where he gave his prophetic “Mountaintop” speech the day before he was killed.
The Moment of Silence is part of a broader I AM 2018 campaign, jointly sponsored by AFSCME and the Church of God In Christ. The I AM 2018 campaign is a grassroots voter education and mobilization campaign designed to train individuals to create change in their communities and carry on the legacy of Dr. King and the sanitation workers.
“Fifty years ago my AFSCME African Americans brothers in Memphis Tennessee faced horrific conditions. Poor wages, faulty sanitation trucks, and no dignity and respect on the job,” said Andrew D. Washington, Executive Director of AFSCME District Council 20, noting that two lives were lost on that fatal day that sparked a movement as 1300 Sanitation Workers walked off the job. “Today, 1.6 million members of AFSCME pay their respect for those workers who helped cornerstone AFSCME’s future in the public sector. I want to thank our Mayor, Muriel Bowser for her continued relationship with AFSCME District Council 20 and the working families in the District.”
“Sanitation workers are not just the backbone of government service; they are the lifeblood of cities and towns across the country,” said DPW Director Christopher Shorter. “They are extraordinarily committed to their work, have a great love for the people they encounter along their routes and I am incredibly proud to honor them today.”
As part of the local observance, Reverend Dr. Yvonne Mercer-Staten of Simpson-Hamline Church preceded the moment of silence with a brief prayer. Simpson-Hamline, located on 16th street in northwest, has honored DPW sanitation workers with an annual luncheon in memory of Dr. King for more than a decade. The event closed with a blessing from Bishop Harvey Lewis of the Bethlehem Church of God in Christ, also located in northwest Washington, DC.
The mission of the Department of Public Works (DPW) is to provide environmentally healthy municipal services that are both ecologically sound and cost effective. To that end, DPW serves all District residents, businesses, visitors, and commuters by providing solid waste management, parking enforcement, and fleet management services.