Fifty years ago, in the spring of 1968 sanitation workers in Memphis, 1,300 members of AFSCME Local 1733 went on strike. In April Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. joined them and delivered his “I’ve been to the Mountaintop” speech. It would be his last speech, and his most prophetic. The next day, April 4, Dr. King was assassinated at the Lorraine Hotel just as a Federal Court lifted an injunction against a March in Memphis in support of the striking workers.
Five decades later and the sanitation workers strike and Martin Luther King’s legacy still impacts the activists in Memphis, Tennessee. Today as a labor movement, we can draw many lessons from the fights of half a century ago. We look back and find our inspiration to go forward.
At the National AFL-CIO’s Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Civil and Human Rights Conference activists from across the movement will focus on the theme “Reclaiming the Dream: Strategize, Organize, Mobilize!”
“There is nothing New about poverty. What is new, however, is that we have the resources to get rid of it,” declared Dr. King in his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize address. The labor movement is the largest grassroots activist movement for economic and social change in the country. We must continue the work of Dr. King and the mothers and fathers of the civil and equal rights movement by reaching out, lifting up and organizing working people from all walks of life.
Read this incredible story in the Smithsonian for a closer look back through the memories of the workers who were there.
Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really 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.
— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. April 3, 1968