Black community, city leaders dodged bullet in resolution of 1969 trash strike

An estimated 1,500 black marchers progressed up to the steps of Oklahoma City’s City Hall, highway patrol troopers wary with shotguns across their chests, riot sticks at hand. Council members peered down from windows overhead.

Throughout the city, 19 of the normal 80 sanitation department trucks wended their way to pickup sites, while residents they couldn’t reach carted trash to 25 fire stations.

It was Halloween, 1969, in Oklahoma City: “Black Friday.”

With the city under a partial “state of emergency,” the marchers were demonstrating peacefully for sanitation workers, who had begun “illegally” ” per city officials ” striking Aug. 19, but tension had reached a boiling point.

“It just seemed like “¦ we were not getting anywhere with negotiating,” said Stanton Young, then chamber of commerce president. “There seemed to be not a desire on the part of “¦ some members of the City Council at that time to “¦ negotiate with the strikers. We took the position that “¦ the city workers should not strike.”

A collaboration ended the stalemate nearly 40 years ago this month.

Oklahoma City’s strike had originated in the summer. On the heels of sit-ins, teacher and civil rights leader Clara Luper turned to support sanitation workers who were mainly black and paid little for unpleasant work. The local NAACP Youth Council she advised pledged to lie down before garbage trucks if demands had not been met for better working conditions and pay.

“The sanitation workers were not being treated, were probably not being compensated as they should have been,” Young said. ““Emily Jerman

Emily Jerman

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