Martin Luther King Jr. Invited to Memphis

“Benjamin L. Hooks and Dr. King”. Civil Rights Collection, DIG Memphis.

March 2, 1968

Rev. James Lawson, chairman of the strategy committee for the group Community on the Move for Equality (COME), has extended an invitation to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Nobel Laureate and noted civil rights leader, to come to Memphis in support of the sanitation workers currently on strike.

According to Rev. Lawson, he phoned Dr. King sometime last week to describe the disruption of a Feb 23 march of striking workers by Memphis police. It was at that point that Rev. Lawson extended the invitation for Dr. King to speak at a mass meeting in support of the strike.

Dr. King then indicated that he would be able to visit Memphis either March 17th or 18th. At the moment, King is in the middle of organizing a major economic justice campaign known as the Poor People’s Campaign. The campaign will focus on the plight of the working class and current plans for it involve forcing the United States government to recognize and address the issue through a massive demonstration in Washington D.C.

In recent weeks, King has called for what he terms “a bill of rights for the disadvantaged,” and over the past year, he has been fiercely critical of President Johnson’s spending on the Vietnam War. King argues that the funds would be more useful for anti-poverty measures.

King sees the Poor People’s Campaign as a way to force the country to come to terms with the need for economic justice and to truly deal with the root causes of some of the riots that rocked many US cities during the previous year.

Aides of Dr. King have cautioned him against going to Memphis. Andrew Young, for example, has said that involvement in the Memphis strike would distract Rev. King from organizing on a national scale ahead of the Poor People’s Campaign.

Lawson, James. “Rev. James Lawson Recalls Inviting Martin Luther King Jr. to Memphis.” Commercial Appeal.
Talburt, Tom. “Dr. King Asks LBJ to Do as Hero FDR Did.” Memphis Press-Scimitar (Memphis, TN), Jan. 15, 1968.
Beifuss, Joan Turner. At The River I Stand. 2nd ed. Memphis: St. Luke’s Press, 1990.
Honey, Michael K. Going Down Jericho Road: The Memphis Strike, Martin Luther King’s Last Campaign. New York : W.W. Norton and Company, 2007.