Region 2-B

Tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. from Assistant Director Rich Rankin

Sisters and Brothers,

Monday January 18th is a significant day in our history, as we rightfully celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. So I would like to take some time to reflect about Dr. Martin Luther King. Although he passed away before I was born, and despite the fact that I never met him, or never was able to actually hear him speak in person, the things that he stood for and the words that he used to inspire people have had a profound effect on my life and the lives of millions of men and women in the labor movement. So I thought it would be nice to share some facts and history with everyone as we reflect on Dr. King this upcoming Monday.

By 1968 he had:
• Won the Nobel Peace Prize
• Built relationships with top Administrative Officials
• Met with members of Congress
• Became President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a leading Civil Rights Organization
• Was a close friend of then UAW President Walter Reuther

No one strengthened the ties between the civil rights movement and the labor movement, more than Dr. King.
The first thing that comes to the minds of most people when they think of Dr. King is his “I Have a Dream” speech. That was truly one of the most inspirational speeches ever given, it is timeless in the sense that it still has relevance today, and I believe it will continue to inspire people for eternity. There are many articles and perspectives about this famous speech and most of us have heard or read about them. However, few are aware, that in the months leading up to Dr. King’s, “I have a Dream speech”, Walter Reuther had given Dr. King an office in Solidarity House. In fact, it was in that office that Dr. King wrote that famous speech and it was in Detroit, with Walter Reuther at his side, that he first gave that speech.
Dr. King is justly remembered as a leader in the struggle against racism and segregation. But he should not be remembered for that alone. Dr. King was a fighter for justice for all people. Throughout his career, he believed that Union members and civil rights activists could partner in a unique “Coalition” with the power to win social and economic change.  

The UAW’s partnership with Dr. King is a proud chapter in our history.
• Marched together
• Strategized together
• And struggled together

When Dr. King’s refusal to accept unjust laws landed him in jail, the call for bail money would often come to the UAW. When it did, we would answer.

Dr. King was killed in Memphis, where he was supporting the city’s striking sanitation workers. He certainly could have found many reasons not to go to Memphis, but from the Montgomery Bus Boycott forward, Dr. King never took the easy or popular path. His conviction to fight for justice charted his way.

On April 4, 1968, that fight took him to Memphis because he believed in the dignity of work and workers. Forty-Eight years after his death, the greatest way to honor his life, is to keep fighting for what is really right.

Today, I would like to leave you with three quotes from Dr. King that go hand in hand with the labor movement. These quotes, although spoken decades ago, are more relevant now than they ever were.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

I challenge everyone, to think about these quotes… They are so much more than simple words. The next time you witness injustice in your workplace or in your community, ask yourself… What would Dr. King do? Many of our opponents say that the labor movement is a dying cause. But I believe it is undergoing a rebirth and together with the inspiration of Dr. Kings life, we can grow it bigger and stronger than ever before.


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