Join People’s World: Back to Memphis and ahead to the future!
Screen shot from video of "I’ve Been to the Mountaintop" by Martin Luther King, the day before he was assasinated.

The article below, written by staff member Blake Skylar, is an intro to the coverage you can expect to see from us next week when People’s World travels to Memphis for the 2018 Moutaintop Conference in commemoration of the life and work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Hosted by AFSCME, the event will also keep alive the memory of the 1968 sanitation workers strike that Dr. King was in Memphis to support. If you follow our stories, you will be part of the effort to renew the modern-day fight for Dr. King’s dream of racial and economic justice. The task of getting out the word about the gathering is a big one, and a lot of the responsibility for this will fall on alternative media, especially People’s World. The next best thing to being there is helping us get our team to Memphis and equipping us do the top job once we are there. We don’t have the backing of corporate America. We depend upon you, our readers, for support. Please take this opportunity to join the struggle by donating to People’s World. Include a note that your donation is for King Conference.

It’s been 50 years since the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered, and today the struggle for racial equality and social justice continues. The renowned civil rights leader will be honored with a commemoration in Memphis, April 2-4, at the Church of God in Christ. It will include a conference, seminar, and panels, a march, and a motivational celebration of his historic “I have been to the mountaintop” speech the night before he was killed.

The I AM 2018 conference will provide a scholarly analysis of King’s legacy and what it means for modern day struggles for social, economic, and racial justice, as well as how it relates to issues that continue to beleaguer people of color and so many other working-class people who live in low income communities. Speakers will examine how best to effect positive change.

“If something isn’t done, and done in a hurry, to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed.” These words, excerpted from Dr. King’s speech, are as true today as they were then. But what also continues to ring true is the sense of hope King conveyed, when he concluded his eerily prophetic remarks by stating, “I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.” The next day, James Earl Ray fatally shot him with a long-range rifle at the Lorraine Motel. The building is now a memorial museum, and those who attend this year’s I AM 2018 event will participate in a march and wreath-laying at this historic site.

Even as attendees honor the past, they will look also to the future. A large part of this event will entail training youth in activism for economic justice and political power. According to an official release from the event, “During the first week of April, faith, civil rights, and labor leaders from AFSCME, COGIC, and other civic organizations will help train hundreds of I AM 2018 Dream Corps activists to kick off a new nationwide voter education and civic engagement program. At a Youth Town Hall, attending activists and leaders at the forefront of fights for economic and racial justice will discuss issues concerning urban youth and make plans for November and elections in the future.

“Alongside these trainings, prominent journalists, academics, community leaders, and subject experts will join a three-day Mountaintop Conference featuring panels on criminal justice reform, minority youth education, the future of American workers and the intersection of labor, faith, and civil rights. Panels will be led by Andrew Jackson Young Jr., Rev. James Lawson, AFT President Randi Weingarten, labor leader Bill Lucy and AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer Elissa McBride, among many others.”

Also speaking will be the surviving Memphis sanitation workers who so famously demanded better pay and working conditions, after African-American trash collectors Echol Cole and Robert Walker were crushed to death by a mal-functioning compactor in 1968. Sanitation workers in Memphis regularly rode in the opening of the compactors whenever it rained – it was the only way they could keep dry.

The remaining workers, launching what is perhaps the most memorable strike in U.S. history, walked off the job and marched downtown draped in sandwich boards that read, “I Am A Man.” The workers, who received the fierce support of Dr. King, and their poignant declaration is now the namesake of this 2018 Memphis event.

Other speakers and participants will include Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, AFSCME President Lee Saunders, civil rights leader Andrew Young (a former Atlanta mayor and congressman), actor and labor activist Danny Glover, Martin Luther King Jr. III, and rapper Common. A separate but related event called “MLK50: Gospel Reflections from the Mountaintop” will be held at the Memphis Convention Center and be headlined by Rev. William Barber, leader of the famous Moral Monday movement in North Carolina.

The conference will be an important one, and 50 years later, the words of King’s mountaintop speech continue to underscore the need for action: In his words: “Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through.”


Blake Skylar
Blake Skylar

Blake is a writer and production manager, responsible for the assembly of the PW home page. He has earned awards from the IWPA and ILCA, and his articles have appeared in publications such as Workday Minnesota, EcoWatch, and Earth First News. He has covered issues including the BP oil spill in New Orleans and the 2015 U.N. Climate Conference in Paris.

He lives in Pennsylvania with his cat. He enjoys wine, books, music, and nature. In his spare time, he operates a channel on YouTube, creates artwork, and is writing a novel.