How a Multiethnic Church Is Chasing the Dream in MLK’s Last Stop

Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra | August 16, 2017


The week before his assassination, Martin Luther King Jr. was late for a march.

The sanitation workers in Memphis had been on strike for six weeks, when simmering anger over low wages, unsafe conditions, and outdated equipment boiled over after a malfunctioning garbage truck crushed two sanitation workers seeking shelter inside it during torrential rain.

The city government said the two men weren’t covered by workman’s compensation law, and offered the families a payout so small it didn’t even cover the funerals.

Days later, most of the city’s 1,300 sanitation workers went on strike. They rallied at Clayborn Temple, home to the most prominent African-American congregation in the city. The pastor (then a white Canadian) printed their placards in the basement (“End Dismal Working Conditions Now,” “Jim Crow Must Go!” and the famous “I Am A Man”).

King joined them in what would turn out to be a disaster of a day—the crowd was massive (city officials estimated 22,000 school-skipping students alone) and restless. King marched but canceled the demonstration when some protestors began looting. The police responded with clubs and guns (killing a 16-year-old black boy). When some of the…


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