[Memphis Police Pass]
Memphis Police Department.
March 29, 1968.
James M. Lawson, Jr. Papers Vanderbilt University Special Collections
On February 1, 1968, two Memphis garbage collectors, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, were crushed to death by a malfunctioning truck. Less than two weeks later over 1,300 sanitation workers began a strike after trying to negotiate better working conditions and issuing a call for safer trucks. Mayor Henry Loeb refused to acknowledge the requests to negotiate and soon talks broke down. The following day, after police used mace and tear gas against nonviolent demonstrators marching to City Hall, Memphis’s black community was galvanized. Soon after local ministers and community leaders formed Community on the Move for Equality (C.O.M.E), under the leadership of local minister James Lawson. C.O.M.E. was committed to the use nonviolent civil disobedience to fill the city’s jails and bring attention to the plight of the sanitation workers. By the beginning of March, local high school and college students, nearly a quarter of them white, were participating alongside garbage workers in daily marches resulting in hundreds of arrests. After a March 28th protest turned violent, Governor Buford Ellington called in 4,000 National Guard troops and issued a 7pm curfew. This police pass allowed Reverend Lawson to travel freely in Memphis despite the curfew.