Memphis, Tennessee. April 4, 1968. A bullet from an assassin’s high-powered rifle strikes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and throws him to the balcony floor outside his room at the Lorraine Motel.
Most Americans know that Dr. King died in Memphis, but few of them recall why he traveled there. In the last year of his life, King changed his focus from civil rights issues to ending the war in Vietnam and ending poverty at home. In early 1968, 1,300 mostly black, underpaid sanitation workers in Memphis went on strike for better working conditions and union recognition. King heeded the call to Memphis to support these striking workers who epitomized the poverty and economic injustice he planned to dramatize with his Poor People’s Campaign.University of Washington history professor Michael K. Honey has written the first definitive history of the sanitation workers strike in his new book, Going Down Jericho Road: The Memphis Strike and Martin Luther King’s Last Campaign (W.W. Norton, 2007). The book weaves the stories of the workers, activists, and local politicians with a detailed account of the last weeks of King’s life. Cornel West called the book “a magisterial account of this neglected period.” Publisher’s Weekly and Library Journal honored Jericho Road with starred reviews.
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