king.jpgWe all think of Martin Luther King, Jr. as an advocate for racial justice. But he was also an advocate for economic justice.

He was about to embark on his second mission, beyond desegregation, that included a battle for worker rights in the shape of better wages and better working conditions for the working poor. The next movement – the Poor People’s Campaign.

“This is a highly significant event,’’ King said in 1968, ‘‘the beginning of a new co-operation, understanding, and a determination by poor people of all colors and backgrounds to assert and win their right to a decent life and respect for their culture and dignity’’

Right before King was assassinated, he took up the battle of sanitation workers in Tennessee who were fighting for better working conditions.

This from The National Archives:

During a heavy rainstorm in Memphis on February 1, 1968, two black sanitation workers had been crushed to death when the compactor mechanism of the trash truck was accidentally triggered. On the same day in a separate incident also related to the inclement weather, 22 black sewer workers had been sent home without pay while their white supervisors were retained for the day with pay. About two weeks later, on February 12, more than 1,100 of a possible 1,300 black sanitation workers began a strike for job safety, better wages and benefits, and union recognition.

Who knows what he would have done for workers’ rights at that volatile time in our nation’s history.

Worker rights have come a long way since his death. But they still have a long way to go. Minimum wage is still horrifically low. Safety is still a major concern for many workers. And discrimination in the workplace is still rampant.

What do you think King is thinking as he sits on the Mountaintop?

“If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”.

That’s the question before you tonight. Not, “If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?” The question is not, “If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?” “If I do no stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?” That’s the question.

Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation.

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