Chicagoans in Memphis honor King’s legacy

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Martin Luther King III, right, and Rev. Al Sharpton, second from right, join in a march commemorating the anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Wednesday, April 4, 2018, in Memphis, Tenn. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated April 4, 1968, while in Memphis supporting striking sanitation workers. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Activists lined a Memphis street Wednesday to re-enact the sanitation workers strike that took place one day before Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. unknowingly delivered his last sermon 50 years ago.

The workers endured dangerous work conditions and were paid low wages, but the tipping point that ignited the 1968 strike that lasted from February 12 to April 16 was the on-the-job deaths of garbage collectors Echol Cole and Robert Walker. Their bodies were crushed by a broken mechanism used to compress trash in their garbage trucks.

With airborne photographer Eboni Bullard – granddaughter of the civil rights era photographer Dr. Ernest Withers whose snapshot of the original sanitation workers march garnered worldwide attention – capturing every step, thousands of demonstrators from across the nation took over Beale Street on the anniversary of King’s death to honor his legacy and attempt to build upon it.

Many held signs that read: “I Am A Man”, a slogan that served as the linchpin of the strike, and called for livable wages and fairer contracts.

Demonstrators from across the nation were on Beale Street in Memphis, Tenn. on April 4, 2018 to re-enact the historic 1968 sanitation workers strike that lasted from February 12 to April 16. (Dometi Pongo/WGN radio)

Demonstrators from across the nation were on Beale Street in Memphis, Tenn. on April 4, 2018 to re-enact the historic 1968 sanitation workers strike that lasted from February 12 to April 16. (Dometi Pongo/WGN radio)

A Roosevelt University student said King’s message of inclusiveness is what fueled her to get involved.

“When it comes to the issues of the denial equitable resources of Chicago, it’s not just African Americans that get the short end of the stick. Poor whites and Hispanics also suffer from systemic oppression. I believe that political expediency and statistics concerning the plights of disadvantaged communities are presented in ways that separate communities rather than bring them together,” said Kiarra Jefferson, one of several Roosevelt students who traveled to Memphis from Chicago.

Zachary Love, a Chicago native who attends Lane College in Jackson, Tenn., likened his values to King’s and said he had no choice but to be in Memphis.

“I was fortunate to identify my purpose and passion at a young age. Me being here, I owe that to Dr. King and the men and women who walked with him,” said Love.

A University of Chicago Law student shared a similar story.

Subria Whittaker was introduced to the teachings of King from her mother, who shared copies of reports cards that showed failing grades because she chose to join the movement and march instead of attend class.

Whittaker’s passion for civic engagement was realized during the National Black Law Student Association convention in 2016. A speaker challenged the attendees to “find their pain, their passion and their purpose.”

Being in Memphis marching, and later at the Lorraine Motel where King was assassinated, was life-changing for the law student.

“It’s the perfect opportunity for me to resonate with the pain of my ancestors and find my purpose and passion in the field of law,” she said.

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