Wednesday, January 19, 2011

James Earl Ray Day

People actually call our recent holiday by this name. Really.

Missed MLK Day by an hour.

Just two thoughts....

Dr. King was involved in the Memphis garbage workers strike against the advice of every single friend and advisor he had: " is too dangerous. need to focus on the Poor People's March....Martin: it is a tempest in a teacup. Martin: it is garbage workers....."

Against all advice Dr. King made at least three appearances in Memphis...even with clear death threats against him.


The garbage strike was all about getting better wages and working conditions for the mostly black garbage workers. Duh. Well, turns out that there were lots of folk involved in the Memphis garbage detail: drivers, pick-up men, unloaders, etc, etc.

The drivers were all white. The pick-up guys were all black. In 1968 the pick-up guys made the Federal minimum wage: $1.68 an hour. Somewhere around $250 a month, less taxes.

I know this, because I also made this wage at the a white guy working in restaurants in Upstate New York. Of course, I had no wife, kids or rent.....

The other deal was I was not in Memphis. It rains a ton in Tennessee. When it rains and you are a garbage pick up have a visceral understanding that a pint is a pound....the world around. A fifty gallon garbage can left in a Memphis rainstorm quickly becomes a living, seething nightmare that takes two strong men to shift, much less lift.

And in rules had the white guys (two of them) snug, warm and dry in the cab of the truck. The "niggers" did all the hard labor....and had to hang on to the outside of the truck between stops. For about $13 for an eight hour day.

The way hard work works....the workers figure out ways to game the system. The only game available to the black pick-up guys in Memphis was to hid in the bed of the garbage truck between stops...out of the rain. A little peace during the thirteen bucks a day.....standing in filth and garbage was marginally more comfortable than getting rained on.

Well, one day...the knucklehead crackers driving the garbage truck in the dry and cozy cab...flipped on the crush switch between stops. Knowingly or un-knowingly....who is to tell? Two African-American workers were crushed to death in the back of a garbage truck. Families, children, etc....

They got nothing from the City of Memphis....from the trash company, from anyone.

Martin was both moved and offended. The story of the Samaritan rang true and clear for him, and he refused to turn away from it....even at the expense of his own life. Every single one of his friends and advisers told him to stay away from Memphis....but he refused to turn away from such obvious abuse and heartlessness.

If you listen to his last speech....I promise the hairs will rise on the back of your neck.

I really don't think they make people like this anymore.....

That was #1

Number 2 favorite quote from Martin Luther King....

"Life is just a series of shattered dreams......."

That doesn't get much play....

I have a dream.......


Blogger Mike said...

I can remember how I heard about King's death. I wish I couldn't. I was an unwilling sailor, back from my year "in country" and wondering what I would do if they sent me back. I was "serving" on a destroyer out of Long Beach and we were on our way back from shelling the junked cars on a beach on (I think) San Clemente Island when I heard two boatswain mates talking: "Did you hear what happened to that...." You can imagine the rest. As I say, I wish I couldn't.
Keep 'em coming, Mike, I read them all and enjoy them, too, as well.

9:48 PM  

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