New ‘I am a Man’ Plaza honors 1968 sanitation workers

MEMPHIS, Tenn — Local leaders are scheduled to attend the grand opening of a new plaza created to honor the sanitation workers who went on strike in 1968.

The "I am a Man" Plaza is located next to Clayborn Temple. The area features a sculpture along with a long wall filled with the names of those who participated in the strikes. On the other side there are famous quotes from civil rights leaders.

91-year-old Robert Taliaferro's wife, Janie, guided her husband through the crowd to the dedication wall that shows the 1,300 names of the striking sanitation workers.

She gently rubbed her hand over the spot bearing his name. "This is you right here. It's been a long time coming," she said.

Taliaferro and several other surviving sanitation workers came out for the unveiling of the I Am A Man Plaza.

"I appreciate what the mayor, the city and everyone that got together put together," Taliaferro said.

The city said they hope the plaza will "inspire future generations to stand up for social justice and positive change."

"For 50 years, the sanitation workers of 1968 have inspired Memphians with their courageous stand for basic human dignity," Mayor Strickland said in a prepared statement. "In the next 50 years and beyond, I AM A MAN Plaza will serve as a permanent place to reflect on their stand and inspire young people to take action."

"I feel good about it. I think it's great. Who would have thought all of this would happen 50 years from now?" Retired sanitation worker Ozell Ueal said.

WREG spoke with the designer of the plaza who said this is the kind of memorial people in Memphis want to see.

"This is a very different kind of memorial. At a time when we are taking down memorials with ties to racism across the South, this memorial was built with participation of the community, and is really something that asks you to think about where we are now, where we're going, and to reflect on our history, because the history is all here."

Bad weather initially impacted the construction of the plaza, but city leaders said it's now ready for the public to see.

The ceremony took place Thursday morning at 11:30 a.m.