On Yarzeit, Recall King's Last Battle: Labor Rights

Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, 1968. Left: April 3. Right: April 4.

Today is the 46th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Jr. Below is the editorial I wrote for the Forward seven years ago, on what would have been his 78th birthday — the moment when the years since his death equaled the years he’d been alive.

It seemed important to recall the near-forgotten lessons of his death: First, his last-minute, aborted turn from the particularist crusade for black rights to a broader, still-barely-begun crusade for economic justice and labor rights. Second, the complex, critical role played by the Jewish community in the dramatic events of those final days and weeks leading up to his death in Memphis. At a time when the first rumblings of black-Jewish schism were echoing in the New York teachers’ strike, King’s partnership with a Jewish union president and a Reform rabbi in Memphis could have laid the seeds for a renewed black-Jewish alliance. That hope ended on April 4, 1968.

It’s worth remembering, too, with our own memories of Wisconsin still fresh, that the labor struggle in which King died was the struggle of a public employees’ union for the rights of municipal employees.

(Continues after the jump / below the video.)

Watch: Final moments of King’s last speech, “I’ve been to the mountaintop,” delivered the night before he died, April 3, 1968:

(full speech, 43-minutes, audio only, plus link to text, after the jump)

Text of King’s April 3, 1968, “Mountaintop” speech here, and of Rabbi James Wax’s April 5 memorial sermon here.

Martin Luther King Jr. funeral, Atlana, April 9, 1968. Front row from left: Harry Belafonte, King children, Coretta Scott King, Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young, Abraham Joshua Heschel. Visible in second row: labor leaders Jerry Wurf and Bayard Rustin (behind King children); Walter Reuther (between Abernathy and Young).

Listen: King’s last speech, “I’ve been to the mountaintop,” April 3, 1968 — full length audio.

Written by

J.J. Goldberg

J.J. Goldberg

Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).

Your Comments

The Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Forward requires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not and will be deleted. Egregious commenters will be banned from commenting. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and the Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Recommend this article

On Yarzeit, Recall King's Last Battle: Labor Rights

Thank you!

This article has been sent!