"I Am a Man" documents sanitation workers' strike

By Ben Watson - bio | email

OXFORD, MS (WMC-TV) - The documentary about the sanitation strike that brought Martin Luther King, Jr. to Memphis was a big hit at a film festival in Oxford, Mississippi this weekend.

"I Am a Man" has already earned several regional Emmys and critical praise.

The documentary tells the story of Elmore Nickelberry and the discrimination he and other Memphis sanitation workers endured in 1968.

"Dr. King came here to help us strike," Nickelberry said.

While in Memphis to help the sanitation workers, Dr. King was shot and killed.  Shortly after Dr. King was assassinated the City of Memphis settled the strike and improved workers' conditions.

Writer John Hubbell and Director Jonathan Epstein tell the sanitation workers' story through Elmore Nickelberry's experiences.

"The most important thing to know about it is it's a story about community, a story about faith and hope and keeping your family together," Hubbell said.

 "It was extremely difficult.  It took a tremendous amount of courage," Epstein said of the sanitation workers' fight.  "They risked their livelihood and their lives."

Alvin Turner, a former sanitation worker, said he put everything on the line in the hopes that conditions would improve for sanitation workers in the future.

"Well this was something I knew I had to do," Turner said.  "I had a wife and three little girls who I cared for dearly and it was something I had to do."

Calvin Taylor covered the sanitation strike as a newspaper reporter.  He said he believes the documentary will help educate a whole new generation on the strike that brought Dr. King to Memphis.

"The thing that I think is interesting about this whole process is ... we're finding out just how many people never knew why Dr. King was even in Memphis," Taylor said.

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