Baxter Leach, one of the last 1968 sanitation strikers, dies at 79

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Baxter Leach

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A man who played a part in a critical turning point in the Civil Rights Movement in Memphis has died, city officials confirmed.

Baxter Leach, 79, was one of many Memphis sanitation workers who led a strike in 1968 under the slogan “I AM A MAN.” Leach died Aug. 27, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said.

The sanitation workers’ strike was a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement and one of the reasons Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was in Memphis when he was assassinated. The strike started after two workers, Robert Walker and Echol Cole, were killed by malfunctioning mechanics in a sanitation truck while they sought shelter from the rain.

“Getting to know the 1968 sanitation workers and their families has been an honor,” Strickland tweeted. “My heart is heavy after learning of the passing of Baxter Leach. He was a great man whose courageous actions made Memphis better. On behalf of a grateful city, we send condolences to his family.”

Leach continued working for the city until his retirement in 2005.

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