Friday, April 4, 2008

Martin Luther King in Memphis, April 4, 1968

The 40th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., is being remembered around the web. Michael K. Honey, author of Going Down Jericho Road: The Memphis Strike, Martin Luther King's Last Campaign, discusses King's work in Memphis in a recent op-ed, setting it in the context of contemporary politics. Hat tip.
"Americans are...coming around to seeing King as more than a civil rights leader who 'had a dream.' Most people know King died in Memphis, but many now want to know why," Honey writes. "Most people don't know King died fighting for the right of workers to organize unions, in one of the most dramatic and significant battles of the 1960s. King was far more than a dreamer. He said a union is the best anti-poverty program available to poor people with jobs, and he supported unions all his life."
When King came to Memphis, he shined a beacon of hope, and media attention, on underpaid, overworked laborers for the city of Memphis....Five weeks into the strike, on March 18, 1968, King delivered an impromptu speech at Mason Temple of the Church of God in Christ. More than 10,000 crammed the auditorium, many overflowing into hallways and stairways, creating the largest indoor mass rally of the civil rights-era South. "All labor has dignity," King preached. "You are reminding, not only Memphis, but you are reminding the nation that it is a crime for people to live in this rich nation and receive starvation wages. And I need not remind you that this is our plight as a people all over America."

After passage of the civil rights and voting rights bills in 1964 and 1965, he said, "one era of our struggle came to a close and a new era came into being. Now our struggle is for genuine equality, which means economic equality. For now we know that it isn't enough to integrate lunch counters. What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn't earn enough money to buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee?"
Honey continues here.

King's last speech, on April 3, 1968, is here. He builds to this conclusion:

We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
The day is remembered by Joe Warren, who was a Memphis sanitation worker forty years ago, involved in the strike. IntLawGrrls has video of Robert Kennedy's extraordinary speech the night of April 4.