(Memphis) On the 45th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s final speech at Mason Temple, labor unions and community leaders gathered at the same spot to revive his message.
Congressman Steve Cohen, Rev. Al Sharpton, Martin Luther King III, joined representatives of national and local progressive groups.
Earlier in the day, Martin Luther King III spoke to News Channel 3 about the significance of Memphis and how his father would view today’s challenges.
“I can’t help but think of the fact that this was the place where Dad gave his last speech. This is the city where he took his last breath. So that’s real. My siblings and I lost a father. My mother lost her husband,” King said.
Then, in looking past the hurt, King still sees his father’s work unfinished. He said his father fought three evils: poverty, racism, and violence. He said in the realms of poverty and violence, we have made almost no strides at all.
“My father would be disheartened and disappointed. But he always tried to find the best, and challenge in that way,” he said.
King and other leaders spoke of economic and racial justice, pointing out the inequality of top earners growing wealthier at the expense of the poor.
Lee Saunders, national president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said the Memphis sanitation workers are “still struggling for a fair contract…how ironic.”
Speakers energized the crowd, having the cheer and applaud for voters’ rights, immigration rights, labor rights and women’s rights. The energy even prompted one man to stand up and make a confession.
He told the crowd it was actually he and some childhood friends who ignited the disturbance during the sanitation march 45 years ago on Beale Street.
Regaining control of the conversation, panel speakers said that they should all confess, that none of them have done enough to further the causes Dr. King cared about.
Ben Jealous, president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, made sure to emphasize the message over the man.
He said this night was not a time to mark the martyr. Many Thursday events would be doing so.
This opportunity was one of resurrecting the message, of knowing what the martyr was about.