“I Am a Man”
“I Am a Man”
Unionism and the Black Working Poor
This chapter talks about H. Ralph Jackson, a minister who became a key supporter of Memphis sanitation strikers in 1968. Jackson remembered that prior to their strike he was highly aware of racism, had a full appreciation of class issues, and that his own class privilege eluded him. The working poor suddenly became visible in 1968. In Memphis, the sanitation workers’ fight for union recognition, better wages and conditions, and dignified treatment upended the “good race relations” that paternalistic white leaders thought they had achieved. The strike exposed the poverty and abuse suffered by many black working people, and when police maced Rev. Jackson and other ministers during a demonstration supporting the strikers, he and others suddenly understood how powerless they felt.
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