Resilience, Resolve and Renewed Commitment to MLK’s Legacy

FILE – In this Sept. 16, 1963 file photo, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gives a news conference in Birmingham, Ala., announcing he and other African-American leaders have called for federal Army occupation of Birmingham in the wake of the previous day’s church bombing and shootings which left six black people dead. (AP Photo/File)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The world is marking the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s murder.

But rather than despair, the resounding message repeated last night was one of resilience, resolve, and a renewed commitment to King’s legacy and unfinished work.

With an enthusiastic crowd filling Memphis’ Mason Temple Church of God in Christ, the atmosphere was heavy with nostalgia Tuesday for the evening 50 years ago that King gave his final speech.

National labor leader Lee Saunders said “Dr. King’s work — our work — isn’t done.”

King was shot and killed while standing on a balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.

His slaying was followed by a wave of rioting (Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Chicago were among cities particularly hard hit).

Suspected gunman James Earl Ray later pleaded guilty to assassinating King, then spent the rest of his life claiming he’d been the victim of a setup.

Some of the sanitation workers who participated with King in a 1968 strike sat in the front row of the Memphis event last night and were treated like celebrities, with audience members stopping to take photos with them before the event started.

Contemporaries of King’s including the Rev. Jesse Jackson were also in attendance.

The commemoration of the “Mountaintop” speech followed an announcement earlier in the day by civil rights leaders who are reviving an economic justice campaign first planned by King.

The organizers of a new Poor People’s Campaign are planning 40 days of marches, sit-ins and other peaceful protests.

“This first 40 days is not the end; it’s the launch,” said the Rev. William Barber of North Carolina, one of the co-chairs of the revived campaign. “You will see simultaneous moral direct action. You will see simultaneous training of people to prepare for a season of massive voter mobilization.”

Starting May 14, clergy, union members and other activists will take part in the events in about 30 states, targeting Congress and state legislatures. Then, on June 23, organizers plan a large rally in Washington — similar to what King had envisioned. The original Poor People’s Campaign was carried out in 1968 after King’s death by other civil rights leaders.

King had envisioned the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington as a way to speak out against economic injustice, as he shifted his focus from civil rights to human rights. But before he could finish those plans, he came to Memphis in 1968 to support a strike by black sanitation workers who were tired of dealing with low pay and dangerous working conditions.

King led a march in Memphis that turned violent on March 28, and he went back home to Atlanta. Seeking to prove that non-violent protests still worked, King vowed to lead a peaceful march and returned to Memphis days later.

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