The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is honored every third Monday in January, a date close to his birth, for his life and his achievements as a civil rights icon.
On April 4, said Stephen Hunter Johnson, chair of Miami-Dade County’s black affairs advisory board, we remember his murder. King was assassinated on the balcony of a Memphis motel 50 years ago on April 4, 1968, weeks after death threats kept him holed up in his Brickell hotel while he was in Miami for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He was 39.
Five decades later, Johnson and others held a remembrance ceremony at county hall Wednesday for King, noting “the day he gave his life for the struggle we all know so well,” Johnson said.
With the black affairs advisory board members at his side on stage, Johnson talked about how King’s original message sometimes gets distorted.
“For those that believe Dr. King’s dream was blindness to color, you misunderstand his dream. For those that believe Dr. King’s dream was blindness to economic advantage, you misunderstand his dream. For those that believe Dr. King’s dream was blindness to educational opportunity disadvantage, you misunderstand his dream,” Johnson said.
“If we’re going to remember him for his dream, then we’d better well remember what that dream was,” he said. “It was a dream of equality, social and economic justice.”
King was in Memphis to advocate for the rights of black sanitation workers facing unsafe, unfair and discriminatory labor practices for 65 cents an hour. Two workers were crushed in the back of a garbage truck and the public works department refused to compensate the families, setting off protests that police tried to quell by spraying mace and beating protesters with billy clubs. Police shot and killed a 16-year-old protester.
“You are reminding, not only Memphis, but you are reminding the nation that it is a crime for people to live in this rich nation and receive starvation wages,” King told a crowd of more than 25,000 at the Bishop Charles Mason Temple in Memphis a few weeks before his death.
King spoke at the same temple the night before his death, telling the crowd, “I’ve been to the mountaintop … And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as people will get to the promised land.’’
Twelve days after King’s death, the city recognized the union and promised higher wages.
That same union is still going strong 50 years later, Phyllis LeFleur, a member of the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees union, told the crown of around 40 in the lobby of the Stephen P. Clark Government Center. She thanked King for the legacy he left for social equality and justice.
“We owe him and his family for everything they did for us,” she said, holding up a T-shirt emblazoned with her union’s logo.