Precursor To History

Februry 2, 1968

Two city sanitation workers were killed by a mechanical packing unit, a gruesome accident that became the precursor to the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s arrival in Memphis in support of the strikers.

Echol Cole, 36, and Robert Walker, 30, were riding on the loaded truck headed to the dump when the compactor activated and crushed them.

The motor started racing and the driver stopped and ran around and mashed that button to stop that thing,” Elester Gregory, another member of the crew, told the newspaper. “I didn’t know what was happening. It looked to me like one of them almost got out, but he got caught and just fell back in there.