Historical society to mark 40th anniversary of sanitation strike


Alexander Evans


From Contributed Reports

Saturday, September 1, 2018

On Aug. 30, 1978, the Concerned Citizens Association led by the Rev. Thomas L. Walker announced the end of the sanitation workers strike that began July 10 and also the end of the boycott of downtown businesses in support of reinstatement and legal exoneration of city sanitation worker Alexander Evans.

Evans had been charged and convicted in District Court for alleged "stealing" a suit of clothes left by trash cans in the white Englewood neighborhood of west Rocky Mount. Evans' co-workers went on strike to demand justice and the African-American community rallied to support their cause.

On Sept. 25, 1978, a Nash County Superior Court jury found Evans not guilty. He returned to work and continued on the job until his retirement 20 years later.

Thus ended what is considered the major civil rights and labor struggle in Rocky Mount and Nash and Edgecombe county history, a major victory for workers and community supporters.

In the Aug. 30 news statement, the CCA stated "The Sanitation Workers after having suffering financial distress and mental anxiety are returning to work as a result of clarification proposals of City Manager Bill Batchelor, in a memorandum dated Aug. 28, 1978. Therefore, the officials of the CCA are calling for an end to the boycott of downtown merchants. CCA officials met on Aug. 28, 1978, with the sanitation workers and on Aug. 29, 1978, with the Rocky Mount Ministerial Conference to consider proposals presented to the workers by the city manager."

The CCA statement on Aug. 30, 1978, also announced a Unification Rally on Sunday, September 3, 1978 at Tom Stith Park at 4:00. "The purpose of this rally is to unify our people, to clarify the conditions regarding the Evans' case, and to point out that the conditions are merely symptoms of what ails Rocky Mount."

"We must emphasize that this matter is not over, it has just begun ... we have spent the past six weeks diagnosing the case and in the process of writing the prescription. The suffering of the sanitation workers and of the Rocky Mount community is a price that must be paid for democratic government and freedom. We are grateful for the public support of all races, groups and organizations. We speak in humility."

The Phoenix Historical Society will present its annual Education Program on the "40th Anniversary of the 1978 Rocky Mount Sanitation Workers Strike: Significance of this Movement on Eastern North Carolina" at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 13, at the BTW Community Center, 727 Pennsylvania Ave.

The program is dedicated to the memory of Alexander Evans and Naomi Green.

The Phoenix Historical Society is calling for any surviving workers who participated in the 1978 strike to contact Leonard Giles at 252-813-1773.