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Martin Luther King, Jr., and the
Labor Movement

While many Americans know that the 20th century's most famous civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr., was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4, 1968, fewer may remember that he was in Memphis to support 1,300 sanitation workers who were in the throes of a bitter, difficult strike. The night before he was murdered, King delivered his eloquent "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech to strikers, their family members and supporters who had crammed into Mason Temple in the city.

History points to King's poignant, powerful words as an eerie foreshadowing of the fate that was to befall him the next day. But it should be noted that King's last speech was also a testament to his commitment to the labor movement. His numerous historical references and Biblical stories firmly established the link between the union members' battle for fair treatment and equality on the job with the broader, fundamental battle for basic human rights. Martin Luther King Jr. recognized that labor's fight for economic justice and dignity were intertwined with the civil rights movement.

On the right-hand side of this page we offer a special focus on Martin Luther King Jr.'s connection to the labor movement.


View the AFT & Civil Rights chapter from the AFT history video, "A Proud Tradition"