Memphis labor hero was one of the original participants in the ’68 Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike
BALTIMORE (September 28, 2017) – The NAACP has issued the following statement regarding the passing of one of the legends of the ‘60s Civil Rights Movement, Mr. Alvin Turner, who transitioned September 18th at 83 years of age:
“The NAACP sadly mourns the passing, but honors and celebrates the life, legacy and leadership of Mr. Alvin Turner, a man who was a key participant in the 1968 Memphis, Tennessee sanitation workers’ strike. Turner was one of the 1,300 black workers who went on strike for two months that year to win dignity on the job in the form of higher wages, better day-to-day working conditions and the right for workers to organize. He was one of only 14 still living today.
The historic, non-violent strike is vividly recalled by black and white Americans alike owing to the iconic signs many marchers carried, emblazoned with the impactful statement, ‘I Am A Man.’ The action, documented on evening news programs all across the country, brought the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to Memphis, where he staged the last major civil rights action of his life and delivered his momentous ‘I’ve Been To the Mountaintop’ speech. King would be assassinated just 12 days before the strike was successfully settled.
Mr. Turner went on to further work within the local and national labor movements after the strike. His insight and knowledge enabled other Memphis workers to organize their own union within the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and he also served as a spokesperson for the labor movement in several states while in demand as a lecturer on the subject at various colleges and universities. He was honored with the key to the city of Jackson, Tennessee in February of 2016, was bestowed the Henry Logan Starks Distinguished Service Award by the Memphis Theological Seminary, and won a 2012 Emmy Award for his role in the riveting documentary, I Am A Man, the Movie.
In May of 2011, Turner and his fellow activists were honored by the U.S. Department of Labor, earning induction into its Hall of Honor for their role in what the agency called ‘a watershed moment in the Civil Rights Movement which sparked a wave of African-American unionization across the South.’ Mr. Turner will further be honored in a special ‘In Memoriam’ segment at the 2018 NAACP Image Awards in Hollywood, California, for the first time scheduled in alignment with the National Martin Luther King Day of Service.”