MEEKS: Garbage collectors and others

April 10, 2013 

Dr. Vincent G. Harding came to Macon at the invitation of Diversity Assets and they need to be commended for their vision and courage in trying to keep the conversation on diversity and race alive. It is challenging due to the an unwillingness on the part of many Maconites to engage in such a conversation.

Harding reminded us last Thursday evening that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was in Memphis to stand in solidarity with garbage collectors. It was the death of two of those men, Echol Cole and Robert Walker that helped to galvanize the struggle for economic justice and freedom that the garbage collectors of Memphis were courageously waging.

Cole and Walker had sat on the back of a garbage truck in an effort to avoid inclement weather since they were forbidden to take shelter during a rainstorm. All of the men working on one truck could not fit into the cab of the truck, so they sat on the back of the truck and the compactor was accidentally activated. They were crushed to death. It is important to remember that inhumanity fueled by racism was the cause of their deaths.

As we move along in the 21st century it is important for us to pay careful attention to the ways in which racism continues to inform our thoughts toward those who are designated as the unworthy among us. Hopefully, there are shelters for garbage workers in Macon to have protection from bad weather, it is important to pay attention to their overall quality of life.

And it is not only this group of public servants who need our careful attention, but all of the folks who work in many areas that many of us consider to be beneath us. They deserve greater respect. Dr. Harding reminded us that King was clear about his connection to the poor and all of the ones who are so easily pushed to the bottom and forgotten.

Today we are quick to speak about the working poor as if that is some type of noble title. There is nothing noble about working one or two jobs and still finding it impossible to provide basic necessities for one’s self and family members. When, as King, we truly accept that all of us are in this journey of life together, things will change.

I continue to be reminded of the notion that, the night is dark and we are a long way from home, when I think of poverty in Macon, in Georgia and in the United States. There is no reason for any person in this country to die because of poverty.

This statement is also very true when it comes to racial equality. Oh, yes indeed, we have come a mighty long way in terms of race, but we have a mighty long way yet to go.

The truth is that far too much energy is spent trying to hide from the truth about race relations and poverty in Macon, as well as other parts of the country. The truth will set us free and it is not possible to build viable communities on anything other than the truth.

King said that poverty, racism and militarism would be the undoing of our country and we can see evidence of that undoing in today’s world. We are being challenged to find a new way to go forward. It does not appear that it needs to be what we have done in the past. We need a new vision of community. We need to seek the Beloved Community that King imagined where everyone would be treated as a worthy person as we embrace the notion of being on this earth to help one another.

What a difference this way of seeing and acting could make. We can make a new world.

This column by Catherine Meeks, Ph.D., appears twice monthly. Meeks is also a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. E-mail her at

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