For Louise Brown, the struggle for dignity and justice is far from over.
The 84-year-old attended a rally and march in downtown Charleston on Saturday commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Charleston hospital workers strike. Brown was one of 12 employees, at what was then Charleston's Medical College Hospital, who were fired after refusing to air their grievances about low wages and long hours individually, as their supervisors insisted they do.
The strike was a major event in the labor and civil rights movements in the U.S., drawing support from unions around the country as well as figures like Cesar Chavez and members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, including Coretta Scott King.
"Here we are today, 50 years of struggle to make it work and I'm seeing the same things happen today that did in '69," Brown told a crowd of roughly 50 that gathered Saturday afternoon for a rally at Cannon Park after a march from the Medical University of South Carolina campus a few blocks away. "We as people have got to do better. We've got to unite."
Brown and Vera Singleton-Smalls, who were among the group of 12 employees, were joined at the rally by family members of other strike participants, Mayor John Tecklenburg, local activist Thomas Dixon and other dignitaries. Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke attended the event but did not speak. On Saturday, he earned his first endorsement from a sitting South Carolina lawmaker, state Rep. Marvin Pendarvis, D-North Charleston.
Tecklenburg presented Brown, Singleton-Smalls and family members of the other strikers with proclamations marking the 50th anniversary. He spoke about the strikers' bravery.
In 1968, the Orangeburg Massacre left three African American protesters at then-South Carolina State College dead and others injured, the mayor said. Later that year, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis.
"I bring that up as a backdrop to show just how courageous, just how brave these folks were," Tecklenburg said. "It was a time when there was fear, there was anxiety."
On March 20, 1969, other hospital employees heard that 12 of their coworkers had been fired and pent-up frustrations led to a decision to strike.
Hospital workers had been engaged in two years of organizing efforts, taking grievances about discrimination, unequal pay, institutional harassment and widespread racial discord to the administration of what is today Medical University Hospital.
Mary Moultrie, a Burke High School graduate and licensed nurse, whose credentials were not fully recognized by the Medical University when it employed her in 1967, organized informal get-togethers and sought advice from civil rights leaders.
Organizers with United Healthcare Workers East Local 1199 in New York City provided on the ground support for the strike, which lasted about 113 days, and involved roughly 450 people from the Medical College and 80 from Charleston County Hospital.
Eventually, the two sides struck a deal, though no official contract was signed, only a memorandum of agreement. The nurses received a modest raise and a grievance procedure was set in place.
The outcome was hailed as a victory.
Half a century later, however, the issue of low wages is still present in Charleston, Tecklenburg said.
The mayor remarked that when he assumed office three years ago, some city employees were still being paid $8.50 per hour.
"In three years, we've raised the lowest wage at the city of Charleston almost 50 percent to almost $12 an hour and we're on our way to $15," Tecklenburg said to cheers.
Dixon, who helped organize Saturday's event, said the community needs to come together.
"It's a call to action folks, in the spirit of 1969," he said.