Elmore Nickleberry and Taylor Rogers remember why they went on strike as Memphis sanitation workers in 1968.
Top photo: Elmore Nickleberry
Bottom photo: Taylor Rogers
Taylor Rogers (TR) and Elmore Nickleberry (EN)
TR: I would be feeling awful every day. We had these tubs and we had to put the garbage in. You put that tub on your head or your shoulder, whichever was comfortable for you to bring it out. Most of those tubs had holes in them. That garbage would leak all over you. By the time you got home in the evening, you had to pull out those old dirty clothes while maggots had fell all on you.
EN: I had maggots run down to my shirts, and then maggots would go down in my shoes. And we worked in the rain – snow, ice and rain. We had to. If we didn’t, we’d lose our job. They said, a garbage man wasn’t nothing.
TR: They’re awful. And one of the main things that really set us off real good was that two other workers got crushed in the compactor. They got in that compactor to get out of the rain, one rainy day and they got up in that compactor and they tripped some kind of lever that crushed them to death.
EN: It was rough. We see some terrible things here. Sometimes you cry. Sometimes you get mad and get up in the morning and say, I ain’t going to work. And then see my kids, and I look at them, and then I say that I had to go to work because that’s the only way I could feed my family.
TR: All we wanted was some decency and some dignity. We wanted to be treated as men so we said that this is it. Thirteen hundred sanitation workers, we all decided that we wasn’t going to take no more. You know, if you bend your back, people will ride your back. But if you stand up straight, people can’t ride your back. So that’s what we did. We just stood up straight and said, I am a man.