(WMC-TV) - Joe Warren, the Mid-South Civil Rights Activist who coined the iconic phrase "I Am a Man" has died.
"It really meant something for them to say 'I am a man'," said Elmore Nickelberry, who marched side by side with Dr. Martin Luther King and with fellow sanitation worker Joe Warren in 1968.
"We decided to go on strike and the sign said 'I am a man' and we were men," Nickelberry said.
Warren died Friday at the age of 91 following a heart attack last month.
"We are sad to hear of his passing," said National Civil Rights Museum president Beverly Robertson.
Robertson said the 'I am a man' slogan became affirmation of everything sanitation workers stood for.
"So many of the conditions that African-Americans worked under were deplorable and in my ways dehumanizing," she said.
Not only was the sanitation strike about working conditions and fare pay, but men like Joe Warren said they were fighting for dignity and decency.
"They didn't just want a raise, they wanted people to respect them," said Civil Rights Pioneer, Reverend Samuel Kyle. "During that time it was about respect because Mayor Loeb wasn't giving us any respect."
Warren was a founding member of the Memphis AFSCME union in 1964. In 2011, President Obama honored Warren and 8 other original members of the sanitation strike.
"You know they feel, 'well I'm just a lowly sanitation worker'," Robertson said. "Well the president didn't view it that way because what they did really changed the course of history.
"Sure we made a difference," Nickelberry added.