Friday, April 4, 2008

Take My Hand, Precious Lord

40 years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed in while standing on a balcony at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. King had returned to Memphis to conduct a second march in support of the sanitation workers of AFSCME Local 1733 who were on strike. We must never forget the roots of the labor movement are deeply entwined with the civil rights movement. It's as much about human rights as it is labor and civil rights.

Dr. King delivered many moving speeches in his short lifetime. One of the most famous titled "I Have Been to the Mountaintop" (Part I and Part II) was delivered the day before. If you have never heard it - or even if you have - it is worth a listen. I was fortunate to study the sanitation workers strike last year in a labor studies class and I am embarrassed to admit, listened to Reverend King's speeches for the first time. His words ring every bit as true 40 years later.

In class, we watched the documentary, "I Am a Man", which told the story of the sanitation workers. These workers walked off the job - stood tall against a defiant mayor - for better wages and better working conditions. Men were killed by faulty equipment that the workers had informed the city of Memphis about. Workers who were sent home because of inclimate weather were not paid. They took a stand and Dr. King stood with them. They walked peacefully, carrying signs with the simple slogan, "I Am a Man". It was only after Dr. King's death that the mayor finally settled the strike with the sanitation workers.

One year before his assassination, April 4, 1967, Dr. King delivered another speech at the New York City Riverside Church denouncing the war in Vietnam. His words ring as true today, five years into our current war, as we rapidly approach five years since the declaration of mission accomplished. For your listening pleasure, Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.

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