“…If you stand up straight, people can’t ride your back. And that’s what we did. We stood up straight.”
April 4, 2009 12:00 AM   Subscribe

When Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated April 4, 1968, he was helping sanitation workers in Memphis form a union. In 1967, SCLC initiated the Poor People's Campaign to unify the African-American civil rights movement with working people's movements more generally. In MLK's words, "It must not be just black people, it must be all poor people. We must include American Indians, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, and even poor whites."

The campaign brought him to Memphis in 1968 to rally with striking sanitation workers. A movement of clergy & community activists had grown in support of the strikers after two workers died on the job.

After King's death, the workers won recognition of their union, AFSCME Local 1733, as well as a collective bargaining agreement containing wage increases, a grievance procedure, and improvements to outdated & dangerous equipment.

In 1968, union membership in the United States was at 29.4 % of the workforce. Since then, the country's election of a black president has prompted suggestions that King's dream has been fulfilled, while union membership has decreased to under 13%.
posted by univac (20 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
I am going to preface this by saying that I actually like our new president, I think in general he does a good to great job.

Now...

Back during the primaries when Jessie Jackson was caught on alive mic saving he wanted to castrate Obama it was a statement in reference to how Obama has been/was pretty non-committal towards issues dealing with people who are poor (as opposed to middle class). I know Jackson catches a lot of flack here, some of it well deserved, but I look at the work he did with MLK, and on his own afterwords (he was on the balcony when King was shot) and I cut him a lot of slack.

I totally understand why Jackson didn't make it out of the primaries when he ran, and if I was voting age at the time I prolly woud not have voted for him in the primary. But, there just is not enough national politicians actively engaged in this issue, Edwards talked a good talk this time around but in ways was a Johnny-come-lately (ha), and like Spitzer let his dick get in the way of what could have been a great policy career.

Poverty issues are not sexy enough for national politics or national media attention nowadays.
posted by edgeways at 12:10 AM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


For some reason, poor people don't contribute enough money to politicians for their needs to be considered. Obviously, they should be writing more checks with lots of zeros to campaign funds. If they don't - well, whose fault is that?




[/sarcasm]
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:31 AM on April 4, 2009


If they don't vote, or if they vote amorphous "family values" that have nothing to do with their well-being, then it's their fault.
posted by nax at 4:09 AM on April 4, 2009


During an election campaign, a politician has to get votes, and to do that, he needs money, and he needs to seem to care about popular issues. When the campaign is over, he doesn't need votes any more and he doesn't need to pretend to care (because people mostly don't pay attention*), but money still matters. So - you vote, and are heard on that one day, but you can give money on any day, and if you give enough, you'll be heard for many days. This is a flaw. It's why the rich have a voice in government that's not proportional to their numbers, but to their wealth. They do not see it as a flaw, of course.



*People who haven't invested a bunch of money in a candidate, that is. People who have invested damn sure want to see a return on their investment, so they do pay attention.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:54 AM on April 4, 2009


...(he was on the balcony when King was shot)

Jesse Jackson was most notoriously NOT on the balcony when MLK was shot. He was in the courtyard below, talking to a group of musicians (you can read all about it in the autobiography of Ralph Abernathy, who WAS with MLK at the time). After the shots were fired, Jackson ran up to the balcony, rubbed MLK's blood on his shirt, and lied about having cradled Martin Luther King's dying head in his arms for the rest of his life. The sheer shameless wickedness of Jackson is not be believed, not only his exploitation of rightly revered MLK, but his vile, Iago-like hissing against Obama, and lifetime of lies, shakedowns and hypocrisy that exploit and demean everyone he touches, black and white.

As for the Poor People's Campaign, most Movement people considered it an ill-timed clown show, an ego-trip for the organizers, and the sad end of the civil rights era.
posted by Faze at 6:43 AM on April 4, 2009


and lied about having cradled Martin Luther King's dying head

There are photos of Jackson on the balcony when the shots were fired and of him cradling King.

King was shot because he began bad-mouthing the war and the weak attempt by The White House to help the poor. MSM only gives you the civil rights angle to the King saga.
posted by Zambrano at 8:00 AM on April 4, 2009


I think it's no coincidence that the war on poverty began to die when Martin Luther King did.
posted by shetterly at 8:21 AM on April 4, 2009


Ralph Abernathy, eh? So... 1968, republican convention in Miami Beach..

I was 20 years old, working as a night bellman at the Fontainebleau hotel, which was the convention headquarters. For a young kid from Jackson, Michigan this was the summer job of a lifetime. There were a lot of famous folks at the convention during that week(my favorite was John Wayne, you could pick him out of a crowd in a heartbeat), including the leadership of the SCLC who had come into town with the "Poor People's" march.

Ralph Abernathy had one of the nicest rooms in the hotel, a huge suite on one of the top floors. We had been told to treat them very politely, no matter what happened (this was the south, and this was 1968, and these were the only African American people I saw in that hotel (other than some of the staff) that whole summer).

Late one night, we received a room service request from Abernathy's room, I was next up and went to the bar to get the two or three bottles of expensive liquor that they had ordered.

I arrived at the room to find Abernathy, Wilt Chamberlain, and a couple of other folks. I put down the tray and, as a good bellman does, stands politely and waits for a tip. After a minute or two of being ignored someone says "The boy's waiting for a tip." Abernathy looks at me, reaches into his pocket and hands me a single coin (I'm thinking a nickle, but it was a few years ago, could have been a quarter).

I'm guessing he REALLY must have been one of those "poor people", 'cuz that's the worst tip I received all summer.
posted by HuronBob at 8:55 AM on April 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


People who haven't invested a bunch of money in a candidate, that is. People who have invested damn sure want to see a return on their investment, so they do pay attention.

Thus the non-rich pool their money to buy their own damned politicians, or did until union-busting became so easy and the cost of illegally firing union-inclined employees so low that it's almost impossible to organize anymore.

More on civil rights leaders supporting the Employee Free Choice Act which is currently stalled in the Senate.

Since then, the country's election of a black president has prompted suggestions that King's dream has been fulfilled, while union membership has decreased to under 13%.

As a senator, Obama walked the picket line with UNITE HERE workers at the Congress Hotel here in Chicago. Since the election,
Any doubts that union leaders might have had about Mr. Obama dissolved several weeks ago when, in announcing a new Task Force on the Middle Class, he said: ''I do not view the labor movement as part of the problem. To me, it's part of the solution. You cannot have a strong middle class without a strong labor movement.'' — NYT, March 2
The New York Times is of course taking a rather rosy view here — certainly a lot of people are not thrilled about the UAW givebacks, and it's still not really clear just how hard Obama will push on EFCA, but I think in general he's a bit more conscious of labor issues than he's sometimes given credit for.
posted by enn at 8:57 AM on April 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


If they don't vote, or if they vote amorphous "family values" that have nothing to do with their well-being, then it's their fault.

There's more to getting support than voting. How can you vote for something that's not on a ballot, or for issues that aren't being addressed?

When it comes to housing, the Middle Class is the new Lower Class. So with the increase in housing costs, predatory lending and all that, home ownership is slipping away from more people. Unfortunately for the lower class, I'd hazard to guess that the middle class does get involved in politics, meaning they get more done through politics, so there is more media focus on the efforts for supporting the middle class. Not many will focus on the wellfare of others before themselves, so until the middle class is more comfortably housed (renting is always an option, but that was never part of the American Dream), the lower class are left with fewer public resources and focus.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:23 AM on April 4, 2009


"Which side are you on, boys, which side are you on..." (Sorry, just watched Harlan County, USA last night).
posted by mike_bling at 9:29 AM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Just to be clear HuronBob: you met a world-renowned civil rights leader and the one of the best basketball players ever, and your concern is you only got paid a nickel to do it?
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 9:52 AM on April 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Re: Jackson with MLK on the balcony. Here is a photo of them on that balcony. Not at the moment of the shooting; I'd be surprised if there were any such photo. Note the distinctive railing. See the same railing in photo #3 of this slideshow. So Jackson and King were together on the balcony at some point before the shooting.

I'd like it if Faze and Zambrano would provide some links to support their respective allegations. I looked at several google book searches, and none of the books say Jackson was on the balcony during the shooting, but none of them say he did anything like what Faze describes, either.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:07 AM on April 4, 2009


As a Memphian, I'd just like to say the Memphis has never really recovered from the assassination and the riots that followed. It shattered race relations and cleared out the downtown area for a generation. It may not have started white flight in the city where Nathan Bedford Forrest is buried in a city park, or that has a community named Whitehaven, but the memories of burning storefronts and tanks in the streets sure didn't help. And it was on both sides. The black community turned inward and the white community took it as a confirmation of their worst fears—namely, that the blacks would one day rise up and repay them for all the horrible things they had done over the years. And to a certain extent, that situation persists to this day. I've had visitors be completely shocked by the racial attitudes they encounter here.

If you're ever in Memphis, you should visit the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. In its heyday, Stax was known for its color blindness. All they cared about is if you could play. Booker T. and the MGs, the Stax house band and for my money one of the greatest assemblages of musicians in the rock era, was half black and half white. To me, the saddest thing in the Stax musuem is a little video interview of Steve Cropper where he says that, in the weeks after the assassination and riots, he suddenly became persona non grata at the studio. Something was broken here that day, and it has never healed.
posted by vibrotronica at 10:56 AM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is it weird, what that maintenance guy was doing with the blood? How does a broom clean it up? And putting it in a bottle? Did they not have mops?

I think there was some creepy relic collecting going on there.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:32 AM on April 4, 2009


you met a world-renowned civil rights leader and the one of the best basketball players ever, and your concern is you only got paid a nickel to do it?

Meeting famous people doesn't put food on the table.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:08 PM on April 4, 2009


Obviously, they should be writing more checks with lots of zeros to campaign funds

Gives me a great a publicity idea. A big campaign check from the Poor People of America written out to the amount of "$00000000000000000000000000000000.00".
posted by Rarebit Fiend at 6:43 PM on April 4, 2009


Meeting famous people doesn't put food on the table.

Systemic class discrimination doesn't help with dinner either. That's why people who devote their lives to opposing it (and have their close friends shot while doing it) are worthy of our respect, regardless if they failed to tip well one time.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 7:12 PM on April 4, 2009


I fail to see where huronbob was disrespectful, and I fail to see how "systemic class discrimination" has any bearing whatsoever on his story. In fact, all I can really see is you sniping at huronbob for telling a presumably true story about his experience. Seems like a bit of a dick move to me.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:21 PM on April 4, 2009


Huronbob was sharing a story about his past, but in this context, that story has implications. So here's the simplest interpretation: Nobody's perfect, but Ralph Abernathy is still a hell of a better person than most. The world would be a better place if people didn't expect great people to be perfect people.
posted by shetterly at 9:31 PM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


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