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