Death of Echol Cole and Robert Walker
The deaths of these men, who were crushed to death in a garbage compactor where they were taking shelter from the rain, together with many racial and working-class injustices, prompted Martin Luther King Jr. to join a citywide march on March 18 to honor these men, support the Memphis sanitation strike, and address the human rights violations that led to their deaths. The march ended with police action, but another was scheduled. King was assassinated the evening before the second march.
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.