The Lorraine Motel. Memphis. April 4, 1968.
Retirement offers the opportunity to take road trips.
The first week in April seems like a good time to head for Memphis. Anne and I have never been and Tuesday begins a year of commemoration for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who was murdered in Memphis 50 years ago on April 4th, 1968.
I only got to hear Dr. King speak live once. It was at a giant civil rights rally in Los Angeles at the old Wrigley Field where the Angels first played. The rally featured tons of Hollywood’s liberal celebrities like Tony Franciosa, Paul Newman and Charlton Heston, who played Ben Hur in the movie and ended up being a gun nut conservative.
When the news came over the radio that Dr. King had been shot and killed I was sitting in a car waiting to pick up my mom after work. Mom didn’t drive and if I was not in a class at Los Angeles City College I would head by the office where she worked as a secretary and give her a ride home rather than her having to take two busses.
When she stepped into the car, I told her the news.
She said nothing. She just looked straight ahead as we drove home in silence.
The next day members of my chapter of Students for a Democratic Society, the LACC Black Student Union and the Chicano student organization, MECHa, followed the call for a student strike at every school in Los Angeles where Black students attended.
We picketed in the morning. Where classes were still meeting, we entered them and explained the strike.
Some professors were not pleased that we disrupted their lesson plans.
Hundreds of us gathered in the quad by the flag pole, our traditional spot for rallies in 1968.
Next Tuesday we will visit the Lorraine Motel in Memphis where Dr. King was killed. It is the home of the National Civil Rights Museum.
Rev. William Barber from North Carolina – leader of the Moral Monday Movement – will speak at a memorial earlier in the day.
Dr. King was in Memphis 49 years ago supporting striking garbage workers.
In Memphis King said,
In 1961 we took a right for freedom and ended segregation in interstate travel. In 1963 we went to Birmingham and said, “We don’t have a right to access to public accommodations.” Bull Connor came with his dogs and he did use them.
What he did not realize was that Black people of Birmingham at that time had a fire that no water could put out.
In 1965 we went to Selma. We said, “We don’t have the right to vote.”
And we stayed there and we walked the highways of Alabama until the nation was aroused and we got the voting rights bill.
All of these were great movements.
They did a great deal to end segregation and guarantee the right to vote.
Now our struggle is for real equality which is economic equality. For we know it isn’t enough to integrate lunch counters.
What does it profit a man to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t have enough money to buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee.
We are tired.
We are tired of being at the bottom.
We are tired of being trampled on by the iron feet of oppression.
We are tired of our children having to attend overcrowded, inferior, quality- less schools.
We are tired of having to live in dilapidated, substandard housing where we don’t have wall-to-wall carpets but so often end up with wall-to-wall rats and roaches.
We are tired of walking the streets for jobs that don’t exist.
We are tired of our men being emasculated so that our wives and our daughters have to go out and work in the white lady’s kitchen leaving us unable to be with our children and give them the time and attention they need.
We are tired.
And so in Memphis we are saying, “Now is the time.”
That was nearly fifty years ago.