While many people know that Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. was killed in Memphis on April 4, 1968, the reason why he traveled there gets little, if any, attention.
King had originally gone to Memphis to lead a march in support of striking sanitation workers. The black workers were upset about unfair wages and other concerns and they went on strike in February 1968. They sent a list of demands to then Memphis Mayor Henry Loeb. Rev. King received a call from Southern Christian Leadership Conference Memphis representative, Rev. James Lawson, asking him to come to Memphis and offer assistance.
On March 28, 1968, the strikers, led by Dr. King, began their march in the streets of Memphis. On the sidelines, violence erupted. Dr. King told Rev. Lawson to call the march off. Bernard Lee, a King aide, pulled the Baptist preacher and 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner, out of the march. A Memphis youth named Larry Payne was killed and more than 60 people were hurt. King went home to Atlanta feeling defeated by this test of his non-violence philosophy.
Even though family members and aides pleaded with him not to go, King returned to Memphis convinced he could lead a nonviolent march there. On April third at Mason Temple in Memphis, King delivered his prophetic last speech “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” The next day, King had dinner at the home of friend and aide, pastor Rev. Billy Kyles. Then, at the Lorraine Motel, King leaned over the balcony and made a request. He wanted to hear “Precious Lord” at the next rally, but he never lived to hear the hymn because he was assassinated.
King’s death forced Memphis leaders to settle the sanitation workers’ strike. Mayor Loeb began to formulate a plan to end the strike as the wounded image of Memphis remained in the national spotlight. Memphis businessman Abe Plough’s financial contribution for the sanitation workers helped settle the strike, according to Joan Beifuss, author of “At the River I Stand.”
Portions of this blog item were excerpted from the 1990 radio documentary
“Dr. Martin L. King Jr.: The Man, The Movement, The Momentum.”
Mother grieves son's death, overshadowed by King slaying (The Commercial Appeal’s story about Larry Payne’s killing)
The 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, http://goo.gl/uaF90
Memphis Entrepreneur Abe Plough's Role in Getting Pay Raises for the Sanitation Workers (from Southern Jewish Heritage)
Books by Dr. Lewis V. Baldwin, King scholar and Vanderbilt professor of Religious Studies, http://goo.gl/rAQYn
The Mississippi River Valley Collection at The University of Memphis, http://www.memphis.edu/specialcollections/index.php
(Documentary) “At the River I Stand,” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xzRUwwRQzVc
(Book) “At the River I Stand,” http://goo.gl/2aTtQ
The New York Times’s obit of former Memphis Mayor Henry Loeb, http://goo.gl/yP5XO
The National Civil Rights Museum (formerly the Lorraine Motel), http://goo.gl/qUSjx