43 Years Ago Today, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Died Fighting For The Rights Of Public Workers

Today is the 43rd anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Many Americans know that King was shot at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee — which now hosts a national civil rights museum in honor of King — but what is less known is why King was there in the first place.

On April 3, 1968, King traveled to Memphis, Tennessee, where he delivered his famous “I’ve Been To The Mountaintop” speech, during which he endorsed a “human rights revolution” based around eradicating racism, poverty, and militarism.

King had arrived in Memphis to support a strike by the city’s sanitation workers, who struck to gain collective bargaining rights and better conditions following the deaths of two city workers in an accident. King called upon the city to respect the “dignity of labor,” saying that all workers deserved fair treatment. He also said it was a crime for a rich country like the United States to pay some people starvation wages. Documentary footage from the AFSCME union captured King’s address to the workers:

KING: You are demanding that this city will respect the dignity of labor. So often we overlook the work and the significance of those who are not in professional jobs, of those who are not in the so-called big jobs. But let me say to you tonight that whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity and it has worth. You are reminding not only Memphis but you are reminding the nation that it is a crime for people who live in this rich nation and receive starvation wages.

Watch it:

Today, thousands of Americans — comprising a new Main Street Movement battling the right-wing assault on the middle class — will take part in over a thousand actions including marches, teach-ins, workplace conversations, and other events to honor King’s last struggle and to carry it on in the battles over collective bargaining rights today. Organizers have put together a promotional video linking King’s fight with today’s struggles. Watch it:

Today, in a guest column for the AFL-CIO, Martin Luther King III, the son of Dr. King, writes that if his father lived today, he “would be joining with millions of other Americans today in supporting public employees in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and other states, where collective bargaining is now under attack.”