As we all pause today to honor Dr. King’s legacy, it is important to note that some of us honor that legacy by word alone, and not by deed. Hypocrisy and injustice continue today, and for those of us who truly value civil rights and equality, protecting that legacy means guarding against its appropriation by those who would embrace ideals that are in direct opposition to those of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement.
MLK went to Memphis to support striking workers. He spoke and wrote repeatedly on the lockstep relationship between African Americans and the Labor Movement, and believed that workers’ rights and civil rights are inseparable. Not only are all men created equal, but all men are men. We are all to be accorded dignity, and are all deserving of a living wage, safe and decent working conditions, and the right to call one another brother.
As Republicans today shamelessly attack public employees, oppose the Employee Free Choice Act, attempt to take health care away from millions of citizens, and claim to abhor gun violence while embracing guns, we must remember that the only way to stand with Dr. King is to stand against those who would attack what he spent his life working for.
“Negroes are almost entirely a working people. There are pitifully few Negro millionaires, and few Negro employers. Our needs are identical with labor’s needs — decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children and respect in the community. That is why Negroes support labor’s demands and fight laws which curb labor. That is why the labor-hater and labor-baiter is virtually always a twin-headed creature spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other mouth.”
-Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. AFL-CIO Convention, December 1961