Daughter of Memphis Sanitation Strike Organizer Works for Justice in Shelby County Public Defender’s Office

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Kay Walker was just 10-years old when her father marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis. Her father, Taylor Rogers, was a City of Memphis sanitation workers who led 1,300 of his colleagues in a protest of their working conditions.

“My dad said he’s not doing it anymore.” It’s one of the memories that’s stayed with Walker since childhood.  “He said, ‘My kids are going to respect me. I am a man.’ It went from there.”

Walker said she has few memories of the 1968 strike, because her parents shielded their children from the sacrifice they were making. In a 1993 interview with the Commercial Appeal, Rogers said he worried about supporting his wife and eight children, but that the union and their church helped the family financially during the 64-day strike.

“Nothing affected me.” said Walker. “Lights were never out, no eviction. We still went to school. Any hardship, my parents did not let me know about it.”

While she may not recall hardship, Walker holds a clear memory of her father’s reaction to King’s death.

“That was one of the coldest days I can remember.  Our household was quiet. My dad always said, ‘We brought him [King] here for the strike, and while he was here, he was killed here.’ I had three older brothers and my dad said, ‘Don’t let King’s death go in vain. Violence is not the answer to the question — a man will respect you for your intelligence.'”

Listen to Taylor Rogers and his wife, Bessie, describe that night in this NPR StoryCorps podcast

After the strike, Rogers would become the president of Memphis Local 1733 and a national voice for the union. He died in 2011.

His legacy of justice continues in Walker and her children. Her son is a computer science major at Kentucky State. Walker has worked within the criminal justice system for the past three decades — first with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office and for the last 20 years with the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office. She is a program administration specialist who tracks people who are incarcerated and scheduled for release, ensuring they are not lost in the system.

Walker’s sister, Iris Stewart, works for the Shelby County District Attorney General.

As Walker recounts, Taylor Rogers’ family was taught that education was the key to a better life… and that justice flowed from how you live your life.

“He would say, ‘Treat people like you want to be treated, and if you do right, right is going to follow you.'”

Learn more about Taylor Rogers: 

2007 Interview on National Broadcast, Democracy Now

Rogers Meets U.S. Secretary of Labor

2008 Interview on the Tavis Smiley show

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