Synopses & Reviews
An unprecedented and timely collection of Dr. King’s speeches on labor rights and economic justice
People forget that Dr. King was every bit as committed to economic justice as he was to ending racial segregation. He fought throughout his life to connect the labor and civil rights movements, envisioning them as twin pillars for social reform. As we struggle with massive unemployment, a staggering racial wealth gap, and the near collapse of a financial system that puts profits before people, King’s prophetic writings and speeches underscore his relevance for today. They help us imagine King anew: as a human rights leader whose commitment to unions and an end to poverty was a crucial part of his civil rights agenda.
Covering all the civil rights movement highlights—Montgomery, Albany, Birmingham, Selma, Chicago, and Memphis—award-winning historian Michael K. Honey introduces and traces King’s dream of economic equality. Gathered in one volume for the first time, the majority of these speeches will be new to most readers. The collection begins with King’s lectures to unions in the 1960s and includes his addresses during his Poor People’s Campaign, culminating with his momentous “Mountaintop” speech, delivered in support of striking black sanitation workers in Memphis. Unprecedented and timely, “All Labor Has Dignity” will more fully restore our understanding of King’s lasting vision of economic justice, bringing his demand for equality right into the present.
In this unprecedented and timely collection of Dr. King's speeches on labor rights and economic justice, award-winning historian Honey traces King's economic dream, from lectures to unions in the 1960s to his momentous Mountaintop speech, delivered in support of striking black sanitation workers in Memphis.
About the Author
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
(1929-1968), Nobel Peace Prize laureate and architect of the nonviolent civil rights movement, was among the twentieth century's most influential figures. One of the greatest orators in U.S. history, King is the author of several books, including Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, The Trumpet of Conscience, Why We Can't Wait,
and Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?
His speeches, sermons, and writings are inspirational and timeless. King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968.
Michael K. Honey, a former Southern civil rights and civil liberties organizer, is professor of labor ethnic and gender studies and American history, and the Haley Professor of Humanities, at the University of Washington-Tacoma. The author of three books on labor and civil rights history, including Going Down Jericho Road: The Memphis Strike, Martin Luther King's Last Campaign, he lives in Tacoma.
Table of Contents
National Labor Leadership Assembly for Peace
Chicago, Illinois, November 11, 1967
Mr. Chairman, distinguished guests, my brothers and sisters of the labor movement, ladies and gentlemen. I need not pause to say how very delighted I am to be here this afternoon and to be some little part of this extremely significant assembly. . . . I don’t feel that I come among strangers today for I feel that I’m an honorary member of many labor unions all across the country. (Applause) In fact, I think Cleve Robinson and Dave Livingston of District 65 in New York made me an honorary member a long time ago and I’ve been a 65er a long time. . . . I want to try to talk very honestly and frankly about this great problem, this great issue that we face as a result of the war in Vietnam. Some of my words may appear to be rather harsh, but they will be as harsh as truth and as gentle as a nonviolent devotee would be. (Laughter)
I want to use as a subject “The Domestic Impact of the War in America.” This question is historic because it is an authentic expression of the conscience of the labor movement. As has been said already this afternoon, tens of millions of Americans oppose the war in Vietnam. Never in our history has there been such a passionate, popular resistance to a current war. In addition to the millions upon millions of ordinary people, eminent scholars, distinguished senators, journalists, businessmen, professionals, students, and political leaders at all levels have protested the war and offered alternatives with an amazing tenacity and boldness.
But one voice was missing—the loud, clear voice of labor. The absence of that one voice was all the more tragic because it may be the decisive one for tipping the balance toward peace. Labor has been missing. For too long the moral appeal has been flickering, not shining as it did in its dynamic days of growth. This conference, a united expression of varied branches of labor, reaffirms that the trade union movement is part of forward-looking America. (Applause) That no matter what the formal resolutions of higher bodies may be, the troubled conscience of the working people cannot be stilled. This conference speaks for millions. You here today will long be remembered as those who had the courage to speak out and the wisdom to be right.
It is noteworthy that the Labor Party of Great Britain, which, of course, has no responsibility for our actions, nonetheless went on record on October 4 in a formal national resolution calling upon its Labor government to dissociate itself completely from U.S. policy in Vietnam. (Applause) It urged its government to persuade the United States to end the bombing of North Vietnam immediately, permanently, and unconditionally.
Now what are some of the domestic consequences of the war in Vietnam? It has made the Great Society a myth and replaced it with a troubled and confused society. The war has strengthened domestic reaction. It has given the extreme right, the anti-labor, anti-Negro, and antihumanistic forces a weapon of spurious patriotism to galvanize its supporters into reaching for power, right up to the White House. It hopes to use national frustration to take control and restore the America of social insecurity and power for the privileged. When a Hollywood performer, lacking distinction even as an actor [Ronald Reagan], can become a leading war-hawk candidate for the presidency, only the irrationalities induced by a war psychosis can explain such a melancholy turn of events. (Applause)
The war in Vietnam has produced a shameful order of priorities in which the decay, squalor, and pollution of the cities are neglected. And even though 70 percent of our population now lives in them, the war has smothered and nearly extinguished the beginnings of progress toward racial justice. The war has created the bizarre spectacle of armed forces of the United States fighting in ghetto streets in America while they are fighting in jungles in Asia. The war has so increased Negro frustration and despair that urban outbreaks are now an ugly feature of the American scene. How can the administration, with quivering anger, denounce the violence of ghetto Negroes when it has given an example of violence in Asia that shocks the world? (Applause)