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Memphis march honors slain civil rights leader MLK

Eloise Williams sits in front of the former Lorraine Motel Thursday where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in Memphis, Tenn.

Associated Press

Eloise Williams sits in front of the former Lorraine Motel Thursday where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in Memphis, Tenn.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Hundreds of union members and their supporters marched in Memphis on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s murder, calling for a new commitment to the human rights causes he died for.

With the march and a dedication ceremony Thursday, they honored King and the sanitation workers strike that brought him to Memphis, where he was assassinated in 1968.

In a light drizzle, more than 1,000 marchers wore T-shirts with union logos and held signs saying "We are Memphis" or bearing the slogan for the 1968 strike: "I am a man." Participants came from as far as Louisiana, California and New York.

Surviving Memphis strikers Baxter Leach, Alvin Turner and the Rev. Leslie Moore joined the marchers when they arrived at a rally at the National Civil Rights Museum, built on the site of the old Lorraine Motel where King was shot down.

Moore, 66, was in his early 20s at the time of the strike. He still drives a truck for the Memphis sanitation department.

"Something lifted off of us when Dr. King came to Memphis," Moore said in an interview days ahead of the march. "Before he came, we had a hard time. When he came, it looked like everything brightened up, a light began to shine out."

Speakers at the rally included Martin Luther King III and Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

City officials began the day by dedicating a section of historic Beale Street to the 1,300 sanitation workers who walked off their jobs in February 1968 after two garbage collectors were crushed to death in a malfunctioning truck. The strikers demanded, and eventually received, higher pay and safer working conditions.

The street, named "1968 Strikers Lane," runs in front of the headquarters of AFSCME Local 1733. Martin Luther King Jr. supported the union when he came to Memphis to make speeches and march with the workers.

The civil rights leader was standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel when he was killed by a rifle bullet on April 4, 1968. James Earl Ray pleaded guilty to the killing and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. He died in prison in 1998.

Speaking at the street dedication, King's son said workers still face challenges like the ones they fought to overcome in 1968. He said his father's campaign for equality through nonviolent means still has meaning.

Memphis march honors slain civil rights leader MLK 04/04/13 [Last modified: Thursday, April 4, 2013 9:00pm]
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