Elmore Nickleberry, a Memphis sanitation worker who marched with Martin Luther King, has died at 92

Jan 12, 2024, 11:14 AM

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Elmore Nickleberry, a longtime Memphis sanitation worker who participated in the pivotal 1968 strike that brought the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to the city where the civil rights leader was killed, has died at age 92.

Nickleberry died on Dec. 30 in Memphis, according to an obituary by R.S. Lewis and Sons Funeral Home, which handled his services. A cause of death was not disclosed.

Nickleberry was one of about 1,300 Black sanitation workers who formed a union and went on strike after two colleagues, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, were crushed by a faulty garbage truck compactor as they sought shelter from a rainstorm in the back of the truck on Feb. 1, 1968. Many struggled to pay bills and feed their families as they held out for better pay, working conditions and benefits.

“We didn’t have a place to shower, wash our hands, nothing,” Nickleberry told the Associated Press in a 2018 interview.

King came to Memphis to support the strike and build support for his Poor People’s Movement. He led a march on Beale Street on March 28, 1968, that turned violent when police and protesters clashed. Nickleberry was one of the marchers who joined King that day in the Mississippi River city.

“A lot of people got hit and started running. I got hit on the arm, so I went down to the river,” Nickleberry said. “A lot of people got dogs sicked on them … It was bad during that time. Really bad.”

King had planned another march but he was fatally shot while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel on April 4. The sanitation workers eventually struck a deal for higher pay and improved conditions.

“When he came, all of us were happy, because we figured if he came to town, we would get better working conditions,” Nickleberry said. “Dr. King was a great man.”

On the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination, Nickleberry recalled the famous “Mountaintop” speech King delivered on a stormy night at the Mason Temple the night before he died.

“He knew something was going to happen. He could feel it,” Nickleberry said. “When he spoke like that, he had the power in his voice.”

Nickleberry worked for the Memphis sanitation department for 65 years. He served in the U.S. Army and was honorably discharged before going to work for the department at the age of 21.

“I stood outside the gate for two weeks trying to get a job,” Nickleberry said. “Then a man told me, ‘Boy, you’ve been coming here for two weeks, a week or two.’ I said. ‘Yes sir.’ He said, ‘Come on in boy.’ I went on in, and the next day I started picking up garbage.”

Nickleberry and other sanitation workers received several awards in later years. A memorial near the Clayborn Temple, where organizers passed out the famous “I Am A Man” placards they would carry during protests, honors their legacy.

“The efforts of the strikers, with their iconic “I Am A Man” placards, and of people of good will in Memphis, led to remarkable progress in race relations and labor equity, and forever changed my city for the better,” U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, a Memphis Democrat, said in a statement after Nickleberry’s death. “The strike and its aftermath were a defining moment for Memphis and for the country.”

National News

Juanita Beach Kirkland...

Kathy McCormack and Nick Perry, The Associated Press

‘Tis the season for swimming and bacteria alerts in lakes, rivers

With summer about to start, many people flocking to their favorite swimming holes may also want to read up on bacteria warnings.

6 hours ago

Associated Press

Couple rescued from desert near California’s Joshua Tree National Park after running out of water

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — A couple hiking in the desert south of Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California was rescued after running out of water, authorities said. On Sunday, the man called 911 and reported that his girlfriend was dehydrated and weak, according to a statement from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office posted Monday […]

6 hours ago

Associated Press

Crews rescue 28 people trapped upside down high on Oregon amusement park ride

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Emergency crews in Oregon rescued 28 people Friday after they were stuck for about half an hour dangling upside down high on a ride at a century-old amusement park. Portland Fire and Rescue said on the social platform X that firefighters worked with engineers at Oaks Park to manually lower the […]

7 hours ago

Associated Press

Independent report criticizes Cuomo’s ‘top-down’ management of New York’s COVID-19 response

NEW YORK (AP) — An investigation into New York’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic found former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “top down” approach of dictating public health policy through his office, rather than coordinating with state and local agencies, sewed confusion during the crisis. In the state’s nursing homes, where some 15,000 people died, the administration’s […]

7 hours ago

Associated Press

Judge dismisses lawsuit challenging federal rules to accommodate abortions for workers

CHICAGO (AP) — A lawsuit filed by 17 states challenging federal rules entitling workers to time off and other accommodations for abortions lacks standing, a federal judge in Arkansas ruled on Friday. Republican attorneys general from each state, led by Arkansas and Tennessee, sued the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in April, days after the agency […]

8 hours ago

Associated Press

Guest lineups for the Sunday news shows

WASHINGTON (AP) — ABC’s “This Week” — Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen; Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C. ___ NBC’s “Meet the Press” — Reps. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., and Ro Khanna, D-Calif. ___ CBS’ “Face the Nation” — Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio; Microsoft founder Bill Gates; Neel Kashkari, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. ___ CNN’s […]

9 hours ago

Elmore Nickleberry, a Memphis sanitation worker who marched with Martin Luther King, has died at 92