Last year felt like a culmination. The ceremonies and commemorative merchandise and parades belied the reality of five decades since the struggle of Memphis sanitation workers who caught the attention of the world.

The sanitation strike in 1968 almost didn’t happen.

In his book Going Down Jericho Road, Michael Honey writes about workers who were afraid to strike despite the deaths of their colleagues, Robert Walker and Echol Cole, and grievances about low pay and exploitative labor, and a failed strike in 1966. When the 1968 strike did start on Feb. 12, its resolution was marked by the public trauma of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.

As of 2018, at least two of the workers who stood on the strike line were still on routes for the City of Memphis public works department, now alongside workers with temporary contracts. These images from the past few years of events and moments may remind us of the importance of Dr. King’s central question in a non-banner year: Where do we go from here?

Jack Walker (center), son of Robert Walker, stands at the front of a 2018 event to honor his father, who was one of two sanitation workers (the other Echol Cole) killed in a garbage truck accident 51 years ago.
A view of one of the sanitation trucks used as a barrier and a backdrop at the ribbon cutting for the I Am A Man Plaza on April 5, 2018.
Some of the sanitation workers from 1968 strike sit at Mason Temple during the 50th anniversary of the Mountaintop speech on April 3, 2018.

This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit reporting project on economic justice in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by the Surdna Foundation, the Southern Documentary Project and Community Change.