85-year-old Memphis Sanitation Worker Can Perhaps Retire

Mr. Nickleberry, left, with his colleague Sean Hayes, 45, on a break at McDonald’s. “It’d be much better in the city of Memphis if all people got together and stood up for rights,” he said. ANDREA MORALES FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES

After working 63 years for the city of Memphis, Elmore Nickleberry, 85, may finally reap the benefits of marching with Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968. The city intends to award Mr. Nickleberry, along with 13 other survivors of the 1968 sanitation strike, a $50K tax-free grant. I’m not sure how $50,000 is supposed to be enough money for a man to retire on, but The New York Times is reporting this as if it were a success story. Somehow, intending to give an 85-year-old man who has worked the same job for 63 years less than some entry level sales representative passes for justice today.

Even when the nation could be shamed back in ’68, the sanitation workers only received a $.10 per hour raise; post-shame, Mayor Jim Strickland thinks that this $50,000 grant represents “doing the right thing.” The problem that shamelessness poses for freedom struggle needs greater attention than it’s getting. During the nation’s second Reconstruction, the media could be used to shame the United States into change. But what happens when the nation is shameless? Then what?

For more on this mess from Memphis, see:

Wendi C. Thomas

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