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Baxter Leach, Sanitation Worker Who Helped Spark a Movement in Memphis in 1968, Has Died

Striking members of Memphis Local 1733 hold signs whose slogan symbolized the sanitation workers' 1968 campaign.

Baxter Leach, a historic member of the 1968 sanitation worker strike that brought Martin Luther King Jr. to Memphis, died on Tuesday. He was 79.

The Memphis sanitation strike began in February 1968 following years of terrible pay and dangerous working conditions and provoked by the crushing to death of workers Echol Cole and Robert Walker in garbage compactors. The night before his assassination in April 1968, King told the striking workers, “We’ve got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end. Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through.”

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland tweeted that getting to know the 1968 sanitation workers and their families “has been an honor.”



“My heart is heavy after learning of the passing of Baxter Leach. He was a great man whose courageous actions made Memphis better. On behalf of a grateful city, we send condolences to his family,” Strickland said.”

The National Civil Rights Museum released the following statement about the death of Leach:

“The National Civil Rights Museum is truly saddened by the passing of our friend and former Memphis sanitation worker, Mr. Baxter Leach. He was among the surviving sanitation workers we were fortunate to honor during the MLK50 Commemoration in 2018 and Freedom Award in 2017.

Mr. Leach generously participated in the museum’s education programs and made himself available whenever he could to share the civil rights story in Memphis and the fight for human dignity. He contributed so much to the knowledge of the struggle, making it real and tangible for the next generation. We will miss him tremendously.”