When black sanitation workers in Memphis took to the streets in March 1968, they carried signs emblazoned with their rallying cry, “I AM A MAN.” Those words will be forever etched into the landscape of the Bluff City with the opening of the I AM A MAN Plaza near Clayborn Temple, the site from which those workers marched 50 years ago.
The purpose of the strike was to take a stand in favor of higher wages and better working conditions. When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made his fateful journey to Memphis, he came to support the striking workers in their efforts. As we commemorate 50 years since Dr. King was assassinated, it’s important to remember how far the struggle has come and how far we have yet to go.
On April 5th, one day after the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, the city of Memphis unveiled it’s I AM A Man Plaza. A crowd of over 200 people came to take part in this historic event to reflect on honor the cost of justice. Boarding the plaza is a marble wall with the names of the 1,300 sanitation workers who participated in the strike. It is a site to behold that is both beautiful and tells the story of Memphis’ past
As a joint undertaking by the city and the UrbanArt Commission, the project was led locally by Memphis landscape artist John Jackson, with artwork by Garten Studios of California. Local poet and spoken word artist Steve Fox authored the text to be etched into the stone monument that is also part of the plaza. The total cost of the installation was around $1.5 million, with $700,000 of that provided by grants and donations.