Echol Cole was one of the two sanitation workers killed in Memphis, Tennessee on Tuesday, February 1, 1968. Robert Walker was the other. The death of these men, together with many numerous racial and working-class injustices, contributed to Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) on March 18, participating in a city-wide march to honor these men, support the Memphis Sanitation Strike, and address the human rights violations which led to their deaths. The march ended with police action, but another was scheduled. King was assassinated the evening before the second march.
From Taylor Branch’s On Canaan’s Edge (ISBN 978-064857121), page 684:
- “It was a gruesome chore to retrieve the two crushed bodies from the garbage packer and pronounce them dead at John Gaston Hospital. Echol Cole and Robert Walker soon became the anonymous cause that diverted Martin Luther King to Memphis for his last march. City flags flew at half-mast for them, but they never were public figures like Lisa Marie Presley, whose birth at 5:01 PM was being announced. . . . Cole and Walker would not be listed among civil rights martyrs, nor studied like Rosa Parks as the catalyst for a new movement. Their fate was perhaps too lowly and pathetic.”
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