Council apologizes for historic strike


Staff Writer

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Rocky Mount City Council apologized Monday night to sanitation workers who were involved in a civil rights struggle four decades ago.

The council unanimously approved a resolution recognizing the 40th anniversary of the Sanitation Workers Strike. After hearing from members of the public, Councilman Andre Knight made a motion for the resolution to include an apology.

"We don't need to wait until another meeting, let's do it now," Knight said.

Alexander Evans, a black sanitation worker, was convicted for stealing a suit of clothes left by trash cans in the white Englewood neighborhood of west Rocky Mount. His co-workers went on strike and the black community boycotted downtown businesses.

A jury later found Evans not guilty. He returned to work and continued on the job until his retirement 20 years later.

The result is considered the major civil rights and labor struggle in Rocky Mount and Nash and Edgecombe counties history, according to the Phoenix Historical Society.

The Rev. Thomas Walker, who helped resolve the matter, told the council he didn't want the resolution to be a token gesture.

"We don't need this to be symbolic," Walker said. "Some of you on the council wouldn't be there if not for these men."

Walker said hardhat workers are the ones who really run a city.

Councilman Rueben Blackwell compared Walker to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and Evans’ wife to Rocky Mount's version of Rosa Parks. Blackwell said because of the sacrifice of men who picked up trash and were treated like trash, Rocky Mount was changed for everyone.

The society will present a program on the significance of the strike at 1 p.m. Saturday at the BTW Community Center on Pennsylvania Avenue in Rocky Mount.

In other business, the council corrected a procedural mistake concerning tourism signage then properly voted to approve six destination districts.

The council also approved the provision of six school resource officers and tabled discussion on an agreement with Edgecombe Community College to share downtown parking.