By Karanja A. Ajanaku
Special to the NNPA from the New Tri-State Defender
MEMPHIS, Tenn.—Across America, people are coming together to form “a new coalition of consciousness,” said Martin Luther King III, speaking at the kickoff of a Memphis march commemorating the death of his father, the iconic Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. King died in Memphis on April 4, 1968 and the 45th commemoration of that fateful anniversary has given the annual observation significantly more pop.
Marchers—heavy with union members—assembled early on Beale Street, outside the Memphis headquarters of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, Local 1733. The union long has represented Memphis sanitation workers, including those that Dr. King was in town to support when he was fatally shot on the balcony of the old Lorraine Motel.
“When women and men of good will stand up, justice occurs,” said King, who made references to challenges being faced today by Memphis sanitation department workers and other labor groups.
Soon after, King, AFSCME officials (local and national), rank-and-file union members and hundreds of others observed the renaming of the street in front of the local union’s headquarters. With the history of the 1968 Sanitation Strike brought present, the street became 1968 Strikers Lane.
Then it was time to march. A drizzle triggered the popping of few umbrellas, as the marchers made their way west on historic Beale Street before turning south on their way to the National Civil Rights Museum (NCRM), which now encompasses the old Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was killed.
“We shall not, we shall not be moved,” was the shared refrain as the march lurched onward, many carrying signs that bore what became the unofficial battle cry of the 1968 Strike—“I am a man.”
The march ended in the courtyard of the NCRM, giving way to an AFSCME Labor Union Rally. The roster of speakers included the union’s international president, Lee Saunders, the first African American to lead the union.
King shared his vision of what he is convinced must come next.
“We must create a new non-violent—that’s the key phrase, non-violent—movement to bring about the changes that are being sought in this city and across America,” said King.
During a noon-hour panel discussion titled, “Labor Unions: Then and Now,” union officials were joined by Alvin Turner, one of the surviving 1968 sanitation workers. And that evening, about half an hour before the observation of the 6:01 time when Dr. King was killed, the Museum kicked off its commemorative program.
New Memphis Branch NAACP President the Rev. Keith Norman set the tone. Members of Alpha Phi Alpha Inc., Dr. King’s fraternity, followed up with the group’s pledge, song, and then the somber placement of a memorial wreath.