Forty-five years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave one of the most famous speeches of his life.
In what’s known today as his “mountaintop” speech, Dr. King spoke to a crowd assembled in a Memphis church, where he was standing in solidarity with sanitation workers who were striking to protest their low wages and poor working conditions. The next day, he was shot and killed.
Some of those Memphis sanitation workers who marched alongside King are still on the job today, as the union representing those workers battles to stop the city’s efforts to privatize waste collection. City officials supporting the plan insist it could help the city save between $8 and $15 million, and that they “can’t afford” not to take that opportunity.
But it doesn’t feel that way to workers. “It looks like they’re trying to take us down again,” 81-year-old Elmore Nickleberry told the Associated Press. He’s one of the original strikers, who still drives garbage trucks for the city. On Thursday, he and other workers will join other union officials to march on the 45th anniversary of King’s death, honoring the sacrifice he made for them–and for so many other Americans.
The night before his death, in that famous speech in Memphis, Dr. King spoke prophetically of his own death, noting the threats he was receiving from “some of our sick white brothers.”
“I don’t know what will happen now; we’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter to with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind,” he said. “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life–longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. 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 a people, will get to the Promised Land.”