The first day of February, has many memorable moments. There is February One, which commemorates February 1st, 1960, the day, when 4 black male college students sat at the lunch counter of Woolworth, in Greensboro NC, which at the time did not serve black patrons. The actions of these men, led to a 6 month boycott, which caused Woolworth to change it’s racist policy.
Eight years later, there was another event on February 1st, which affected American history. Some believe, it was overshadowed, by the the birth of Lisa Marie Presley, on that same day, in the same city. Echol Cole and Robert Walker were sanitation workers, in Memphis Tn. On 1 February 1968, both were crushed to death by a malfunctioning garbage truck.
The men had climbed into the back of the truck to get out of the rain Prior to integration, African American city workers were not allowed to socialize or fraternize with their white coworkers.While the white employees were allowed lodging to get out of the rain, the black men had no where to go.
Conditions for African American sanitation workers, had become worse after Henry Loeb, was elected mayor, one month earlier on Jan 1st, 1960.Loeb had refused to pay overtime to employees who were forced to work late night shifts. The wages were so low for black city workers that many qualified for and had to use welfare or food stamps just to feed their families The black sanitation workers also were not given uniforms, gloves, or a place to take a shower.
Mayor Loeb also refused to remove dilapidated garbage trucks from service. Had he done so, the malfunctioning truck would not have been used, and Cole and Walker would not have died such a horrible death. Echol Cole was 36 and Robert Walker 29, when they were cut down because of racist attitudes and laws.
Walker and Coles deaths led to a sanitation boycott, which brought Dr Martin Luther King to Memphis in April This is why Dr. King was at the Lorraine Motel, where he was fatally shot to death. Dr. King, has a holiday in his honor, and the sanitation strike which brought him to Memphis is a well known fact, and resulted in changes for black city workers.
Lisa Marie Presley’s birth date is etched in American history, and February One is gaining momentum. Americans however are not familiar with the names Echol Cole and Robert Walker. I asked numerous individuals, and while they knew that two men were crushed in a garbage truck on February st 1960, not one could tell me their names.
Coles and Walker are unsung hero’s of the civil rights era. Their deaths, along with Dr. King’s show the domino effect of tragedy that came from the mindset of American leaders in the 1960’s. I believe Robert Walker and Echol Coles deserve their place along with other martyrs of the civil rights era