March 29, 2018 / 10:28 AM / 10 months ago

Memphis workers reflect on Martin Luther King Jr. assassination 50 years later

Jerry Coleman (R), a forklift operator by day, takes pictures while he films a scene for his Youtube movie "All Lives Matter" with his friends at the Lorraine Motel, where civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed in 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee, U.S., March 26, 2018. Coleman was improvising a scene about what MLK might have thought of the violence on the streets today. "We really want to know what he would think if he was still around. He could be anything, he could be the president right now, we don't know. Whatever's going on in Memphis, I'm on a positive tip. I grew up in a neighbourhood with lots of things going on, but that's not going to stop me from having fun." REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (Reuters) - A half century ago, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. came to Memphis to march in support of the city’s striking sanitation workers. It was the last trip the Baptist minister turned civil rights leader would make in the name of social justice.

On April 4, 1968, the day before the march was to begin, King, 39, was fatally shot on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel by an avowed segregationist.

A month earlier, King led the sanitation workers in a march through the Tennessee city that erupted in violent clashes. Even so, he vowed to return for a second march, convinced that the strikers would prevail in what he saw as a fight for economic justice.

King’s commitment made a deep impression on the strikers.

Henry Leach, who participated in the strike 50 years ago, said King came to the city for justice, not violence.

“He came to help us get what we wanted. Like I tell you, he became like a father to us,” Leach, a former sanitation worker who participated in the strike 50 years ago, said recently.

The evening before the second march, the Nobel Peace Prize winner delivered his famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” sermon at a local church.

    Michael Halloway, a Memphis sanitation worker, said he believed that King would have mixed feelings about the current state of U.S. race relations.

“It makes me very sad because you know he came here to fight for the rights for us,” he said. “It’s getting better and better now, but it’s got a long way to go,” Halloway said.

Reporting by Kia Johnson; Writing by Suzannah Gonzales; Editing by Richard Chang

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