April 4 is an important date in history.
Fifty years ago on April 4, 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave one of his most memorable sermons at the Riverside Church in New York City.
The sermon explained why he had decided to publicly oppose the Vietnam War, but it was much more than that and has subsequently been referred to as Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” sermon.
In his sermon, King said that the war was a symptom of more troubling problems facing the US and called for “a radical revolution of values” to overcome the “triplets of racism, militarism, and economic exploitation.”
A year later on April 4, 1968, King was murdered in Memphis where he was in town to support striking sanitation workers.
Forty-nine years later on April 4, 2017, local groups of the Black Lives Matter and Fight for $15 movements joined together to renew King’s call for a “radical revolution of values.”
They held rallies, marches, and teach-ins in two dozen US cities whose unifying theme was “Fight Racism, Raise Wages.”
“I just want you to know with the time we are living in now, with the level of poverty and the level of racism and the level of extremism, silence is not an option. We cannot be quiet and silent any more,” said Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP and leader of North Carolina’s Moral Monday movement at the Fight Racism, Raise Wages rally in Memphis.
On its “Beyond the Moment” web page, the Movement for Black Lives announced that the April 4, Fight Racism, Raise Wages actions were the beginning of a month-long campaign of “political education” and “bold actions” designed to lay the foundation for building “a Movement of the Majority,” described as
“Black and Brown people, immigrant communities, the economically unstable, women, children, the disabled, the LGBTQ community, those working to protect our right to work, and those fighting for our right to clean air and water, (all of whom are) facing attacks because a minority whose values are rooted in white supremacy, division, and hatred have taken power.
Although in power, hate is not the majority. People who believe in freedom, justice and the humanity of all people are the majority, and we’ve had enough. We won’t stand idly by and watch our communities be attacked and torn apart.
The center of the April 4 rallies and demonstrations was Memphis, where thousands of people marched behind a banner reading “Fight Racism, Raise Wages, Still Fighting for the Dream.”
They marched through downtown to the Lorraine Motel, where King was murdered 49 years ago.
One of those marching was Genevieve Sneed, a home care worker.
“Dr. King came to Memphis to march with Black sanitation workers fighting for better pay and union rights – a fight that we continue today,” said Sneed. “Black and Brown workers—especially women—have been held back by the forces of poverty wages and racism for far too long. After 30 years as a home care worker, I only make $9/hour. It’s time to break down the barriers to the economic and racial justice Dr. King fought for.”
“I have been a home care worker for more than 20 years, yet I only make $9.75 an hour,” said Sepia Coleman who was also at the march. “I do valuable work, yet my pay screams that I am not worthy of living wages for the valuable work I do. The low pay, lack of advancement opportunities, and disrespect I face, and so many persons of color face, says we don’t count. But we do count. That’s why I am committed to the fight to undo the pattern of racial and economic injustice that so many of us encounter.”
The Memphis marchers paused for a moment of silence at 6:01 P.M., the time that King was shot in 1968.
Similar demonstrations took place in cities all over the US.
In Charleston, South Carolina supporters of the Fight Racism, Raise Wages actions gathered at the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1422 union hall.
At the rally, Local 1422 President Kenneth Riley told the audience that in addition to being the anniversary of King’s assassination, April 4 is the anniversary of the death of Walter Scott, an African American man shot and killed by police officers in North Carolina.
“At this critical juncture in our history, it is so important to honor the memory of these two men, both undone by race hate and gun violence,” said Riley. “But even as he left us, Dr. King showed us the way forward–a three-fold attack on the evils of war, poverty, and racism.”