Laurie Green is an associate professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin, where she is also affiliated with the Center for Women's and Gender Studies, the African and African diaspora studies department, and the American studies department. She teaches courses on civil rights history from a comparative perspective, women's history, social and cultural history, and the history of gender, race, and national identity in twentieth-century America. Her first book, Battling the Plantation Mentality: Memphis and the Black Freedom Struggle (2007), won the Philip Taft Labor History Book Award and was a finalist for the OAH Liberty Legacy Foundation Award. Her current book project is entitled "The Discovery of Hunger in America: The Politics of Race, Poverty, and Malnutrition after the Fall of Jim Crow."
Photographs of the Memphis sanitation strikers bearing their "I AM a Man" placards in 1968 now appear on book jackets, in films, and elsewhere, but where did that slogan come from? What did it mean to those who held the signs and to observers at the time? Ironically, not only the striking men but working-class women and more privileged African Americans also identified with this declaration of manhood by the poorest and most degraded Black laborers. This lecture explores these questions while also considering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s participation in the strike and his tragic assassination just days after these placards first appeared on the streets of Memphis.