MLK’s Forgotten Employee Rights Legacy

Today marks the celebration and legacy Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a national hero. Among the many remembrances held today, notably The White House and here in Seattle, a tone of income inequality appears prominent in the hearts and minds of followers. In observing the holiday, President Obama visited a soup kitchen several miles from the capital while U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison echoed Martin Luther King’s fight against income inequality as related to current minimum wages. Though Dr. King is not often remembered for his advocacy of labor and employee rights, the latter part of his life marked a shift towards these causes. On the day that he was assassinated, Dr. King was in Memphis to support local 1733 sanitation workers union on strike.

Some scholars believe Dr. King’s shifted attention to employee rights was the influence of earlier African-American civil-rights leaders such as A. Phillip Randolph.  Randolph’s public support for the rights of African-American Porters of the Pullman Train Company known as the Pullman Porters, evidenced Randolph’s belief that “what good is the right to go to the theatre if you can’t afford the ticket.”

For additional commentary on Dr. Martin Luther King’s economic legacy, visit The National Library of Congress.