News About & From the Fusion Media Group

The Root Commemorates 50th Anniversary of MLK's Death by Shining A Light On Those Who Inspired His 'Mountaintop' Speech

New Video Series Centers Around Exclusive Access to Memphis Sanitation
Strikers and Their Families

The Root, the premier news and culture site for African-Americans, partners with Striking Voices, a Memphis-based multimedia journalism group, to bring to the forefront powerful and vibrant stories of the 1968 Memphis sanitation strikers, whose unified stand against racial and economic oppression compelled Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to join their fight.


During their 65-day strike, the 1,300 sanitation workers pushed for better working conditions, higher pay and more respect, after two men were crushed to death in a garbage truck while on the job. The strikers marched daily in downtown Memphis with signs stating simply, “I Am A Man,” challenging habitual racism and the plantation culture into which they had been born. King delivered his iconic speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” to the men on April 3, 1968 in Memphis and was assassinated there the following day.

The 11-part video series, “1,300 Men: Memphis Strike ’68” (#1300Men), puts the spotlight where King himself said it belonged: “There are 1,300 of God’s children here suffering, sometimes going hungry. Going through dark and dreary nights, wondering how this thing is gonna come out. That’s the issue.”

The series includes exclusive, in-depth interviews with surviving sanitation strikers, their wives, and their children. The series will amplify the voices of the men and their families, whose compelling life stories have never been so deeply documented, beyond their function as a preface to the tragic assassination of Dr. King. The Root will be releasing new installments of the series periodically between MLK Day on January 15, and April 16, the 50th anniversary of the day the strike ended.


The series is produced in collaboration with Striking Voices, founded by journalist Emily Yellin, a long-time contributor to The New York Times, where she has written about the South extensively. Yellin first interviewed Memphis sanitation strikers 20 years ago, building upon the visionary work of her parents, David and Carol Lynn Yellin, journalists who began chronicling the strike in real time, in 1968.

“Too often, the story of the sanitation strikers’ struggle for liberation lives in the background of Dr. King’s assassination and it is our duty to change that narrative,” said Kirsten West Savali, associate editor of The Root. “When Emily came to us with this project two years ago, her deep desire to center these men and their lived experiences was palatable. The decades of hard work poured into ‘1,300 Men’ is evident in each frame and we are honored to partner with Striking Voices to share these stories. These men risked their lives because they believed in a world where their personhood would be unassailable. They were tired of being called boys, tired of being treated like property, so they stood together and said, ‘No more.’ In 1968, that was a radical act. In many ways, it still is today.”


“During the last three years, our team of Memphis journalists, photographers and filmmakers has been so honored to meet and get to know the families who persisted and triumphed through that iconic time. We worked hard to make sure their perspective and experiences were always front and center in everything we did,” said Yellin. “When I imagined a perfect platform that would do these stories justice, The Root came to mind immediately. Within weeks, I serendipitously was connected to Kirsten West Savali, and this partnership has blossomed ever since. Her constant and endlessly insightful support and collaboration, along with everyone at The Root who worked on this series, has been essential. We are thrilled that finally the whole world can get to know, as we have, the courage, dignity, love and perseverance that these largely untold, deeply human stories embody.”

For more information on this project or to request an interview with one of the editors/producers, email


The Root provides an unflinching examination of political and cultural news through insightful debate and commentary from both established and emerging black thought-leaders. The Root features unvarnished analysis of important issues in the black community and engages anyone looking for diverse viewpoints that are provocative, savvy, and smart. The site became a part of Gizmodo Media’s collection of sites on Kinja in January 2017. The Root was founded by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Donald Graham in 2008. Follow The Root on Twitter @TheRoot and on Facebook.


Striking Voices is a multimedia journalism project centered around in-depth video interviews with the 1968 Memphis sanitation strikers, their wives, sons and daughters, conducted between 2015 and 2018. The interviews, and portrait photographs taken after the interviews, are meant to portray the real, relatable people from that historic time. Journalist and author Emily Yellin and the Striking Voices crew are dedicated to showing the full dimension of the people who lived and led on the frontlines of a quintessentially American fight, and to conveying how present these heroes remain in our modern lives. On twitter: @strikingvoices

Share This Story