richard l. copley

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“I am a man.” - On February 12, 1968, Memphis sanitation workers, the majority of whom were Black, went on strike demanding recognition for their union, better wages, and safer working conditions after two trash handlers were killed by a malfunctioning garbage truck. The strike gained national attention and dragged on into March. Striking workers carried copies of a poster declaring “I AM A MAN,” a statement that recalled a question abolitionists posed more than 100 years earlier, “Am I not a man and a brother?”

April 26, 2017

“I AM A MAN”

by Marcellous Lovelace

In 1968, after years of complaints about poor pay and dangerous conditions, two Memphis sanitation workers were crushed to death in a garbage compactor. 10 days later 1,300 black sanitation workers met and agreed to strike and over the coming weeks faced escalating police retaliation. In an address to the strikers Rev. James Lawson said “For at the heart of racism is the idea that a man is not a man, that a person is not a person. You are human beings. You are men. You deserve dignity,” and the phrase “I AM a man” became the rallying cry. In 2014 Chicago artist Marcellous Lovelace used his “modern graffiti style” to transform the 1968 photography of Richard L. Copley into this powerful message to a new generation. Lovelace’s design was installed on this South Main Street wall by Memphis artist BLK75.  @marcellouslovelace