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"All Labor Has Dignity"
Now available in Paperback
People forget that Dr. King was every bit as committed to economic justice as he was to ending racial segregation. As we struggle with massive unemployment, a staggering racial wealth gap, and the near collapse of our financial system, King’s prophetic writings and speeches underscore King’s relevance for today.
Hitting all the civil rights movement highlights—Montgomery, Selma, Memphis, Albany, and Birmingham—award-winning historian Michael Honey traces King’s economic dream, from lectures to unions in the 1960s to addresses during his Poor People’s Campaign, culminating with his momentous “Mountaintop” speech, delivered in support of striking black sanitation workers in Memphis.
Gathered in one volume for the first time, the majority of these speeches will be new to most readers. They help us imagine King anew: as a human rights leader whose commitment to economic justice was a crucial part of his civil rights agenda.
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“Michael Honey, a distinguished scholar of labor and African-American History, has done a great service by gathering Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speeches on labor, may of them previously unknown. He brings to life the King who from the outset of his public career insisted that 'the evil of economic injustice' must be combated along with racial inequality, and who saw the effort to eliminate poverty as a natural outgrowth of the civil rights struggle. This is a more complex King than we celebrate every January, forever frozen on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial delivering his “I Have a Dream Speech.” King’s dream called for nothing less than a radical restructuring of American economic life.” —Eric Foner, DeWitt Clinton Professor of History, Columbia University
“Thanks to Michael Honey’s meticulous editing and the inclusion of rarely heard audio, we can finally grasp the depth of the Reverend Martin Luther King’s commitment to Americans as workers. Now, more than ever, his insights show us the way of transformation from consumers divided by race and ethnicity into an active, united citizenry.” —Nell Irvin Painter, author of The History of White People and Edwards Professor of American History, Emerita, Princeton University
“This is more than a compelling and unprecedented collection of speeches by Martin Luther King, Jr. Through thoughtful introductions to each and every speech, Honey sets the stage for the reader, proving without a doubt that Dr. King was among the greatest labor leaders of the 20th century and that his message continues to resonate powerfully in our age.” —Bill Fletcher, Jr., Editorial Board, BlackCommentator.com; co-founder, Center for Labor Renewal; Board Chairperson, International Labor Rights
“As this powerful and inspiring collection shows, Dr. King was a tireless champion of the working class. But “All Labor Has Dignity” is not just a testament to his rhetorical legacy—it is a call to action.” —Richard L. Trumka, president, AFL-CIO
Labor Leadership Assembly for Peace
Chicago, Illinois, November 11, 1967
Mr. Chairman, distinguished guests, my brothers and sisters of the labor movement, ladies and gentlemen. I need not pause to say how very delighted I am to be here this afternoon and to be some little part of this extremely significant assembly. . . . I don’t feel that I come among strangers today for I feel that I’m an honorary member of many labor unions all across the country. (Applause) In fact, I think Cleve Robinson and Dave Livingston of District 65 in New York made me an honorary member a long time ago and I’ve been a 65er a long time. . . . I want to try to talk very honestly and frankly about this great problem, this great issue that we face as a result of the war in Vietnam. Some of my words may appear to be rather harsh, but they will be as harsh as truth and as gentle as a nonviolent devotee would be. (Laughter)
I want to use as a subject “The Domestic Impact of the War in America.” This question is historic because it is an authentic expression of the conscience of the labor movement. As has been said already this afternoon, tens of millions of Americans oppose the war in Vietnam. Never in our history has there been such a passionate, popular resistance to a current war. In addition to the millions upon millions of ordinary people, eminent scholars, distinguished senators, journalists, businessmen, professionals, students, and political leaders at all levels have protested the war and offered alternatives with an amazing tenacity and boldness.
But one voice was missing—the loud, clear voice of labor. The absence of that one voice was all the more tragic because it may be the decisive one for tipping the balance toward peace. Labor has been missing. For too long the moral appeal has been flickering, not shining as it did in its dynamic days of growth. This conference, a united expression of varied branches of labor, reaffirms that the trade union movement is part of forward-looking America. (Applause) That no matter what the formal resolutions of higher bodies may be, the troubled conscience of the working people cannot be stilled. This conference speaks for millions. You here today will long be remembered as those who had the courage to speak out and the wisdom to be right.
It is noteworthy that the Labor Party of Great Britain, which, of course, has no responsibility for our actions, nonetheless went on record on October 4 in a formal national resolution calling upon its Labor government to dissociate itself completely from U.S. policy in Vietnam. (Applause) It urged its government to persuade the United States to end the bombing of North Vietnam immediately, permanently, and unconditionally.
Now what are some of the domestic consequences of the war in Vietnam? It has made the Great Society a myth and replaced it with a troubled and confused society. The war has strengthened domestic reaction. It has given the extreme right, the anti-labor, anti-Negro, and antihumanistic forces a weapon of spurious patriotism to galvanize its supporters into reaching for power, right up to the White House. It hopes to use national frustration to take control and restore the America of social insecurity and power for the privileged. When a Hollywood performer, lacking distinction even as an actor [Ronald Reagan], can become a leading war-hawk candidate for the presidency, only the irrationalities induced by a war psychosis can explain such a melancholy turn of events. (Applause)
The war in Vietnam has produced a shameful order of priorities in which the decay, squalor, and pollution of the cities are neglected. And even though 70 percent of our population now lives in them, the war has smothered and nearly extinguished the beginnings of progress toward racial justice. The war has created the bizarre spectacle of armed forces of the United States fighting in ghetto streets in America while they are fighting in jungles in Asia. The war has so increased Negro frustration and despair that urban outbreaks are now an ugly feature of the American scene. How can the administration, with quivering anger, denounce the violence of ghetto Negroes when it has given an example of violence in Asia that shocks the world? (Applause)