Posted by: JanF | January 20, 2014

Dr. King: “… it is a crime for people to live in this rich nation and receive starvation wages”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr spent a lifetime fighting for working people: for a recognition of the dignity of labor, demanding a living wage to lift all people out of poverty. His cause has become our cause in 2014 as Democrats are fighting for minimum wage increases and our president echoes the words of Dr. King: “… let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full time should have to live in poverty.”

In March, 1968, Dr. King was in Memphis to lend support to the striking sanitation workers. They were striking for better wages and working conditions:

On 1 February 1968, two Memphis garbage collectors, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, were crushed to death by a malfunctioning truck. Twelve days later, frustrated by the city’s response to the latest event in a long pattern of neglect and abuse of its black employees, 1,300 black men from the Memphis Department of Public Works went on strike. Sanitation workers, led by garbage-collector-turned-union-organizer, T. O. Jones, and supported by the president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Jerry Wurf, demanded recognition of their union, better safety standards, and a decent wage.[…]

King himself arrived on 18 March to address a crowd of about 25,000 – the largest indoor gathering the civil rights movement had ever seen.


(From ThinkProgress)

Transcript: Martin Luther King, Jr. addresses strikers in Memphis, Tenn., March 18, 1968

Selected quotes:

As I came in tonight, I turned around and said to Ralph Abernathy, “They really have a great movement here in Memphis.” You’ve been demonstrating something here that needs to be demonstrated all over the country. You are demonstrating that we can stick together. 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.

If you will judge anything here in this struggle, you’re commanding that this city will respect the dignity of labor. So often we overlook the worth and significance of those who are not in professional jobs, or 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. One day our society must come to see this. One day our society will come to respect the sanitation worker if it is to survive. For the person who picks up our garbage, in the final analysis, is as significant as the physician. All labor has worth.

You are doing another thing. You are reminding, not only Memphis, but you are reminding the nation that it is a crime for people to live in this rich nation and receive starvation wages. I need not remind you that this is the plight of our people all over America. The vast majority of Negroes in our country are still perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. My friends, we are living as a people in a literal depression. Now you know when there is vast unemployment and underemployment in the black community, they call it a social problem. When there is vast unemployment and underemployment in the white community they call it a depression. But we find ourselves living in a literal depression all over this country as a people.

Now the problem isn’t only unemployment. Do you know that most of the poor people in our country are working everyday? They are making wages so low that they can not begin to function in the mainstream of the economic life of our nation. These are facts which must be seen. And it is criminal to have people working on a full-time basis and a full-time job getting part-time income.

[…]

I will hear America through her historians years and years to come saying, “We built gigantic buildings to kiss the sky. We build gargantuan bridges to span the seas. Through our spaceships we were able to carve highways through the stratosphere. Through our airplanes we were able to dwarf distance and place time in chains. Through our submarines we were able to penetrate oceanic depths.”

But it seems that I can hear the God of the universe saying, “even though you’ve done all of that, I was hungry and you fed me not. I was naked and ye clothed me not. The children of my sons and daughters were in need of economic security, and you didn’t provide for them. So you cannot enter the kingdom of greatness.” This may well be the indictment on America that says in Memphis to the mayor, to the power structure, “If you do it unto the least of these my brethren, you do it unto me.”…

Now you’re doing something else here. You are highlighting the economic issues. You are going beyond purely civil rights to questions of human rights. That is distinct…

Now our struggle is for genuine equality, which means economic equality.For we know now, that it isn’t enough to integrate lunch counters. What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t have enough money to buy a hamburger? What does it profit a man to be able to eat at the swankest integrated restaurant when he doesn’t even earn enough money to take his wife out to dine? What does it profit one to have access to the hotels of our cities, and the hotels of our highways, when we don’t earn enough money to take our family on a vacation? What does it profit one to be able to attend an integrated school, when he doesn’t earn enough money to buy his children school clothes?

[…]

Now is the time to make an adequate income a reality for all of God’s children, now is the time to make the real promises of democracy. Now is the time to make an adequate income a reality for all of God’s children, now is the time for city hall to take a position for that which is just and honest. Now is the time for justice to roll down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream. Now is the time.

[…]

We can all get more together than we can apart. This is the way to gain power. Power is the ability to achieve purpose. Power is the ability to effect change. We need power…

Now the other thing is that nothing is gained without pressure. Don’t let anybody tell you to go back on your job and paternalistically say, now, “You’re my man, and I’m going to do the right thing for you if you’ll just come back on the job.” Don’t go back on the job until the demands are met. Never forget that freedom is not something that must be demanded by the oppressor. It is something that must be demanded by the oppressed. Freedom is not some lavish dish that the power structure and the white forces imparted with making positions will voluntarily hand down on a silver platter while the Negro merely furnishes the appetite.

[…]

You know, many years ago, America signed a huge promissory note which said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” It didn’t say “some men,” it said “all men.” It didn’t say “all white men,” it said “all men,” which includes black men.

It said another thing which ultimately distinguishes our form of government from other totalitarian regimes. It said that every person has certain basic rights that are neither derived from nor conferred by the state. In order to discover where they came from, it is necessary to move back behind the dim mist of eternity. They are God-given.

America hasn’t lived up to this. She gave the black man a bad check that’s been bouncing all around. We are going to demand our check, to say to this nation, “We know that that check shouldn’t have bounced because you have the resources in the federal treasury.” We are going to also say, “You are even unjustly spending five hundred thousand dollars to kill a single Vietcong soldier, while you spend only fifty-three dollars a year per person for everybody categorized as poverty-stricken.” Instead of spending thirty-five billion dollars every year to fight an unjust, ill-considered war in Vietnam and twenty billion dollars to put a man on the moon, we need to put God’s children on their own two feet.

[…]

We have great challenges ahead, and great possibilities. And let us not lose hope. When you lose hope you die. We’ve got to keep going. I know how difficult it is. We’ve got to have that kind of ‘in spite of’ quality, to say that we are going on anyhow. We will keep the kind of hope alive that will make us know that if we will unite, if we will organize, we will be able to dramatize these issues to the point that something will be done.

[…]

I close by saying, ‘Walk together, children.”

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  1. Reblogged this on Shania's song..


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