Labor Leaders Remembrance of MLK Timely

By Aisling Maki

Organized labor supporters from around the country will descend on Memphis Monday to join members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 1733 in solidarity as they march through Downtown’s streets on the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Local 1733 administrator Shelley Seeberg said in light of the recent demonstrations in Wisconsin, where labor unions clashed with the governor over a bill that would severely weaken collective bargaining rights, organizers of this year’s march are expecting a significantly larger crowd.

“Memphis historically is a significant place for lots of reasons, and we’re hoping that in solidarity, we can have a large march in support of the work he did,” Seeberg said. “We have attacks going on across the country, in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan and here in Tennessee, where there are several bills at the capitol that want to take the voice away from workers who have a union. We believe this is the same fight that Dr. King was having. We’re now reliving it, so we’ve expanded activities based on that.”

Monday, AFSCME is urging workers nationwide to stand in solidarity with their brethren.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson and singers Michelle Shocked and Michael Franti will participate that evening in a rally called “From Memphis to Madison,” scheduled to take place at the Wisconsin capitol building.

In April 1968, King traveled to Memphis to march alongside striking African-American sanitation workers represented by Local 1733.

The evening of April 3, he delivered his final speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.”

The following evening, he was struck by a bullet while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, now a permanent exhibition of the National Civil Rights Museum at 450 Mulberry St.

To commemorate King’s legacy, Local 1733 will host a showing of “At the River I Stand,” a documentary film recounting the strike and the period leading up to King’s death, at 7 p.m. Sunday in Founder’s Park on the property of the museum. The event is free and open to the public.

The museum has two full days of events and tributes planned to commemorate King’s legacy on the anniversary of his death.

Barbara Andrews, the museum’s director of education and interpretation, said that what makes this year’s celebration special “is a real focus on the sanitation workers, the reason Dr. King was brought to Memphis. We’re doing that through the film event, ‘At the River I Stand,’ and we’re still hoping that we’ll have one or two of the workers who were striking at that time to be here as commentators for that film event.”

On Monday, union members, community groups and coalition partners carrying banners will gather at 10 a.m. at Local 1733, 435 Beale St., to march to Memphis Government Plaza on North Main Street for a rally.

Speakers will include the Rev. Al Sharpton, Southern Christian Leadership Conference President Rev. Dwight Montgomery, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees secretary-treasurer Lee Saunders, and representatives from various unions, including communication workers and firefighters.

A community barbecue will follow the march from noon to 2 p.m. at the union hall on Beale, where groups will be allowed to set up booths to share information.

“We’re also going to set up a political activities center where people can write letters, fill out postcards and make calls in support of keeping people’s right to have their voice,” Seeberg said. “Quite frankly, what’s happening across the country takes us back to the day when he first marched, when there weren’t any laws allowing collective bargaining in a lot of these states, and that’s what’s happening now across the country.”

That evening, the Memphis-based April 4th Foundation – an organization dedicated to commemorative historical and educational programs surrounding the anniversary of King’s assassination – will host its annual Commemorative Awards Banquet honoring civil rights activist Charles Patrick and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, pastor emeritus of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. That event is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. at the Memphis Cook Convention Center, 255 N. Main St.