Martin Luther King, Jr.

On February 12, 1968—President Lincoln’s birthday—as Dr. King traveled from state to state, garnering rousing support for the Poor People’s Campaign, more than a thousand sanitation workers in Memphis walked off the job. A month into the strike, on March 18, strikers and their supporters packed Bishop Charles Mason Temple of the Church of God in Christ in what the Reverend James Lawson would describe as a “sardine atmosphere.” With few notes, King addressed the overflowing church by connecting the localized strike to the plight of all workers, especially those in the service economy.

[The following speech was delivered by Dr. King in support of the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike, just two weeks before he was assassinated in the same city.]

“My dear friend James Lawson and to all of these dedicated and distinguished ministers of the gospel assembled here tonight, and to all of the sanitation workers and their families and to all of my brothers and sisters—I need not pause to say how very delighted I am to be in Memphis tonight, and to see you here in such large and enthusiastic numbers.

As I came in tonight, I turned around and said to Ralph Abernathy, “They really have a great movement here in Memphis.” You are demonstrating something here that needs to be demonstrated all over our country. You are demonstrating that we can stick together and you are demonstrating that we are all tied in a single garment of destiny, and that if one black person suffers, if one black person is down, we are all down. I’ve always said that if we are to solve the tremendous problems that we face we are going to have to unite beyond the religious line, and I’m so happy to know that you have done that in this movement in a supportive role. We have Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, members of the Church of God in Christ, and members of the Church of Christ in God, we are all together, and all of the other denominations and religious bodies that I have not mentioned..”

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