Reverend George Turks, Jr. tells churchgoer Charita Johnson-Burgess (pictured above at left) about witnessing the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike as a teenager.
George Turks, Jr. and Charita Johnson-Burgess
George Turks, Jr. (GT): When the sanitation workers walked off the job, lot of kids that I went to school with fathers were sanitation workers. I remember they would march down Main Street, and I couldn’t understand why all of the black men had signs saying, ”I AM A MAN.” And I’m going, ”Ok, we know you’re a man,” you know. And my father at the time was working for Memphis Light, Gas, and Water. Could not come because of the threat of losing his job. And, uh, at night, I remember asking my father why did they need those signs. He said, ”Because they’re not being recognized as men. Even on my job, my supervisor is 20-something years old.” He said, ”I’m 40-something and he called me boy and I have to call him mister,” you know. And I’m going, ”But why?” He said, ”As you get older, it’ll all become clearer to you. It’s just hard to explain now at your age.”
As a teenager, I didn’t know what I was involved in, what impact it was going to have.
Charita Johnson-Burgess (CJB): Uh-huh. So those signs represented a lot?
GT: A whole lot. And, you know, when I look them now, cause there are posters, there are pictures of ’em. You know, when I look at them now, you know… it’s just hard to imagine. And it makes me reflect back at that time and say, Huh, I’m glad I wasn’t grown then. And I didn’t need to have a sign to identify myself as a man.