Before Martin Luther King was assassinated, he had broadened his Civil Rights agenda to include advocating for the Vietnamese during the Vietnam War and the sanitation workers striking in Memphis.
On MLK Day, I like to remember Dr. King as the environmentalist. Memphis sanitation workers went on strike in Memphis, Tennessee on February 12, 1968. They wanted higher wages, and better hours and vacation time. “An unhealthy work environment” was “the subtext” as the workers “were exposed to hospital waste and rotting food, which drew rodents, roaches, and birds.” (Dianne Glave, Rooted in the Earth Reclaiming the African American Environmental Heritage, 131)
Dr. King arrived to support the sanitation workers at a rally on March 18. He continued his support with his famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech on April 3rd at the Mason Temple in Memphis, saying,
“It’s all right to talk about streets flowing with milk and honey, but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day. It’s alright to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day God’s preacher must talk about the new New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis.”
Thank you Dr. King for being an environmentalist–before environmentalism was en vogue–for African Americans, for the impoverished, for Americans!